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Let the Grief Begin {Summer Flashback}

“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.

Adoption is my Jericho {Summer Flashback}

As I sat in church this morning listening to a lesson on Joshua chapters 5 and 6, God grabbed my heart.

We are in the middle of our third adoption. A calling from God, yes. A child chosen for us by Him, absolutely! But even in the midst of this clearly directed path by God, I needed a heart check. Sometimes He needs to step in and remind us that it is ALL about Him. Even when we are doing something He has asked us to do, our flesh can step in and take our focus off of Him.

Travel with me back to Canaan.  After 40 years of wandering in the desert God’s people are ready to enter their promised land, but there were obstacles in the way…… big obstacles, physical as well as spiritual. Big walls and armies as well as seeds of doubt and fear.

Joshua was a man of God. He was appointed by God to be the leader of His people. Yet, even as he stepped out in faith to lead his people into battle, God stepped in to check Joshua’s faith and trust in Him and His plan over their plan. Are Joshua and the Israelites truly ready to step out in complete faith, no matter what, even if it seemed a little crazy?

“Now it came about when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing opposite him with his sword drawn in his hand, and Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us or for our adversaries?” He said, “No; rather I indeed come now as captain of the host of the Lord.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and bowed down, and said to him, “What has my lord to say to his servant?” The captain of the Lord’s host said to Joshua, “Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so. (Joshua 5:13-15, NASB)

When God calls us to step out in faith, it is not always easy and sometimes it doesn’t even make sense, but that is what makes God God and us not! Let’s consider God’s plan for the Israelites to defeat Jericho.

“Then the Lord said to Joshua, ‘See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men. March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have the whole army give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the army will go up, everyone straight in.’’ (Joshua 6:2-5, NIV)

How CRAZY AMAZING was God’s victory plan over Jericho! He asked them to do something from a human military perspective that made absolutely no sense, so that there would be absolutely no question that victory was the Lord’s!

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Adoption is my promised land, but initially, there were obstacles in the way. Big obstacles embedded deep in my heart.

I had plans……normal earthly plans. Plans for red headed, freckled children, but God had other plans.

CRAZY AMAZING PLANS! Once I accepted God’s plan I went full steam ahead doing all I could to make it happen, and sometimes getting frustrated when things didn’t happen according to my schedule. How easy it is to forget that this isn’t my plan. It’s God’s PLAN! A plan to bring glory to His name, not mine.

Adoption is also my Jericho. His timing is perfect, and many times throughout our adoption journey, He has done CRAZY AMAZING things that could only be attributed to Him. Sometimes He whispers and sometimes He shouts, “Remember, I am the Lord, Suzanne. You are standing on holy ground.”

So let us shout at the top of our lungs like the Israelites at the Battle of Jericho as we move forward with our adoptions, knowing that our Creator and Savior is leading the charge for us and our children who are more precious to Him than we could ever fathom.

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Suzanne Meledeo

After struggling with infertility for 5 years, God led Suzanne and her husband Adam to His Plan A for their lives—adoption! Their daughter, Grace Lihua, came into their lives in 2011 from the Fujian Province, China. Their son, Anthony Jianyou, joined their family in January of 2013 from Shanghai, and Eva Hanting just joined their family in May from the Hunan Province. After a career in politics, Suzanne is thankful for God’s provision in their lives that now allows her to work part time as a Pilates instructor while home schooling their children and working as a part of the WAGI leadership team. You can follow their adoption journey and life on their blog, Surpassing Greatness.

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

My Gardening Life.

I am not a gardener, but if I were my garden would look something like this.

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Pretty, right? Everything in its place, ordered, organized, contained and thriving. Beautiful and fruitful. Yep, that is it right there. 

And that is a pretty good picture of what I was going for with our family. Each child organized, contained within the life-giving boundaries we set up, and thriving, etc. Sounds good doesn’t it? 

But as our family grew through adoption my neat rows of seasonally appropriate lettuce and tomatoes, and those lovely flowers intentionally planted to catch just the right amount of sun, changed into a whole other garden.

Our family metamorphosed overnight into a crazy out of control mess of a garden. A beautiful, willy-nilly kind of place, full of surprising varieties and diversity. 

It has been a great adventure to discover and appreciate all that our adopted children have introduced into our lives. They brought with them so much that is lovely, fascinating, strong, creative and exciting from their birth families, country, and culture that have made our garden gloriously unique. Like an heirloom tomato imported from a far away place, I haven’t always immediately recognized the special qualities introduced to our family through adoption. But as the years have gone by, 15 now since our first two treasures came home, I have identified so much that I might have at first mistaken as a weed. 

I have learned to not to try to pull up something because I didn’t plant it, but rather clear a space for it in my heart and in the culture of our family. Let it grow and enjoy its fruit and beauty, and make it my own.

And where weeds have come in (to join the ones already there!)–the unwanted and unwelcome residue of rejection, abandonment, trauma and orphanage life–then I have learned to carefully remove them. Not all at once with a hoe of shame, but gently dig them out with the trowel of prayer and love and identity. Some of these weeds continue to sprout up over the years, the lies that threaten to choke out sonship, so I continue to maintain this special plot of land God has given us. 

And I have learned that some plants just need some time to grow before they can set themselves apart from the look-alike weeds. So I garden with care and nurture, waiting for the season of flowering and fruit.  

And I have learned to be at peace with the process of being a care-taker of such a crazy garden. As tempting as it was to take our new transplants and try to force them into my perfect rows, it proved to be destructive to us all whenever I tried it! 

So instead I focus on enjoying the beauty and surprise of it all, and the honor of being a part of such a family. 

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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.

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We’re building the nest this month!

Head right on over HERE to find out more and learn about the 40+ businesses that support adoption and the work of The Sparrow Fund!

 

He calls me mama

Today marks 5 months that Dumpling has been in our arms.  It also marks about 2 months of him seeking me out as “mama” and “mom” and “mommy.”  I had to work hard for those titles though, they didn’t come easily.  For the first couple months, he didn’t refer to me or DH as anything.  He simply walked over to us and tapped our leg or arm to get our attention.  Even despite our silly name games when we pointed to and named each family member.  We did that a lot.  For awhile, Dumpling even called himself “mama.”  Oy.  There was a lot of confusion associated with names of people because, frankly, my guess is he may have never understood that people have names.  Oh sweet boy.

After awhile, he began to get my attention with a word/sound he developed after coming home.  It reminded us of the sound one might make while doing a karate chop.  It’s humorous now, but at the time, I’ll admit it was a bit frustrating.  He still defaults to that sound sometimes now, but a quick reminder sets him back on track.  A few months ago though, no amount of repeating “mama” seemed to do the trick.  He just wouldn’t call me mama.  Or couldn’t.  I can’t be sure.  He was able to easily repeat it but just didn’t make the association.  I wondered if maybe it was because of his hearing loss, but he only has minor loss on the one side and has been able to hear and follow multi-step directions from early on.  I’ll never know what was going on back then.  But it was hard to not feel a little hurt in my heart because it felt personal, even though I knew in my brain that it wasn’t.

web 2Slowly though, with time and lots and lots and lots of repeating and reminding, it happened.  His karate chop sound was replaced with “mama.”  And then “mom.”  And even “mommy” like the other children call me.  And then “MOM!!!!”  And like other parents who want so badly to hear their children use words but then sort-of-but-not-really regret they wanted it, he was calling for me all day long.  Sigh.  And now at 5 months home, he even calmly calls for me by name when he wakes up in the morning.  It’s beautiful.

I think this transition closely mirrors his attachment transition too.  It’s as if his willingness or ability to call me by name is representative of his attachment growth.  Although I still think we need more time, I feel more and more comfortable every day with his connection to us.  And our choice to keep him close for these first months is just confirmed over and over for me.  I know it’s been difficult for our extended family to be kept at such a distance, but I’m confident it was the best decision for everyone.  Attachment requires work and intentionality, just as it has to teach him who his mama is.  And that work is worth every bit of time and effort.  I still find myself quietly observing him, simply amazed by him.  By all he’s accomplished in the short 5 months he’s been our son.  By how much I deeply love him.  And I’m overcome with joy and thanksgiving because it is such an honor to be his mama.  The days are long and I don’t always make the best choices or have the most patience, but good gracious I love this child with all of my being.

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Last month when DH and I were at Together Called, DH was waiting with Dumpling in the hallway while I finished leading my breakout session.  When I opened the door of the conference room to the hallway, I spotted them at the other end of the hallway.  DH was chatting with a friend while his wife played with Dumpling at a distance (I love being with other parents who understand adoption attachment!).  Dumpling was having fun and was clearly engaged, but do you know what he did when he caught my eyes?  He pointed at me and yelled, “MAMAAAAAA!!!!!” and came running to me with all his might.  And you better believe that his mama got down on her knees and scooped him up in her arms when he crashed into her.

In that moment, all of my attachment and connection worries melted away to a puddle of mush on the floor.  It’s one of those memories that will always be with me.  Yes, I knew right then that we were going to be just fine.  He knows I am his mama and he is so very certainly my son.

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NicoleNicole is a daughter to the King and a wife to an amazing man. She is a classical homeschooling mama to four, by birth and adoption. She is a part-time newborn photographer, a founder and adoption photographer at Red Thread Sessions, a contributing blogger at No Hands But Ours and an advocate of orphan care and adoption. When she’s not with her family or behind her camera, she loves to blog, create, give life to old furniture, spend time at the beach and read. She strives to live her life to glorify our Heavenly Father.  With His love, all things are possible.

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We’re building the nest this month!

Head right on over HERE to find out more and learn about the 40+ businesses that support adoption and the work of The Sparrow Fund!

 

Save the date {#TC2016}

A little less than 2 months ago, 220 men and women made meals in advance, set out clothes in little piles, arranged rides to practices, and said goodbye to children (pulled them off their legs in some cases). We set aside life for a weekend to come together, as a couple and as a community, for refreshment and reminders of why they’re doing all this to begin with. In worship, engaging words, and fellowship, over that weekend, we were encouraged as parents to children who have experienced hard things, as couples who need each other to work as a unified team, and as individuals who are called to a big task. That’s Together Called.

We know it’s only the middle of May. But, we’re already planning for TC2016, so we thought you might want to as well.

Mark your calendars with two dates–registration in early October (this thing fills fast) and the weekend in April at Liberty Mountain Resort. We want you to be there with us this year.

TC2016 Save the Date

Make sure you give us your email address below where it says “SUBSCRIBE” to get a reminder email to register. It will fill up fast!

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We’re building the nest this month so that we can continue things like Together Called.

Head right on over HERE to find out more and learn about the 40+ businesses that support adoption and the work of The Sparrow Fund!

Nesting

Nesting. Hibernating. Cocooning. Shrinking your world. Stripping your calendar.

If you’ve been around the adoption community for any length of time, you’ve heard terms like these and likely have some working familiarity with the general gist of what they mean. Even if you are brand new to the adoption world and all these terms seem like a foreign language when applied to parenting techniques, your basic grasp of the English language gives you at least a working definition to go by. But one thing I’ve discovered over and over in my interactions is that many folks don’t really know WHY adoptive parent ought to consider cocooning. To be sure, there are quite a few philosophies out there that sufficiently cover the ranges of how strictly one ought to consider pulling back from their normal routine and pace of life. But in my studying, the WHY of each philosophy has one common thread that runs through them.
Adoption comes out of tremendous loss for our children.

It’s a hard truth. A truth that brings me to my figurative knees quite often. A truth that puts the responsibility for bringing the healing and hope of Jesus Christ to that loss squarely on the shoulders of my husband and me. A truth that pushes me to seek resources, support and training that will increase my ability to be used by The Father to see wholeness come to my daughters. That loss is the common thread that drives many families to consider some form of cocooning with their newly adopted child.

In the early days home with both of our girls, I confess that I was far more excited about sharing our beautiful new daughters with the wonderful community that we had built around us. This dyed-in-the-wool extrovert wanted everyone to coo over chubby cheeks and marvel over sweet smiles and sassy personalities with me. “Shrinking our world” felt like serious potential for the kind of cabin-fever about which nightmares are made! But choosing to spend our early days and weeks attending to their adjustment and transition from “orphan” to “daughter,” was my way of honoring the truth of the tremendous losses they were experiencing. In the beautiful but messy process that is adoption, we gained two beautiful daughters. But in that same beautiful messiness, our daughters lost everything familiar to them in their daily lives.

Our home smelled different than their foster homes. We looked different than the ayiis. Our food tasted strange. The language in our home, even our faltering attempts at pre-school level Mandarin, was odd and dissonant to their ears. Every single sense that my daughters have was assaulted with difference for days and weeks on end.  Bigger than that, and long before we came and took them into our family, they lost their first family. Certainly, the exuberant love and joy of welcoming them to our home was evident even in our awareness of their losses. Our hearts were filled with great joy and pride in our older kids’ understanding of this process and their abilities to attach to their new sisters. And yes, the attachments my husband and I formed with each daughter had good strong roots already going deep thanks to wonderful isolated travel-time together in China. But the differences they experienced, the loss these girls had suffered in those early days cannot be minimized.

So, in light of this truth, WHY cocoon? One of my favorite adoption experts, Dawn Davenport of Creating A Family puts it very succinctly:

The idea of “nesting” is to simplify life, settle into a routine, and limit the care of the child to the mom and dad. This is especially important when adopting a child past the newborn stage – in other words, when adopting from foster care or internationally. With adoption, the baby/child’s life has been turned topsy-turvy. The idea of cocooning is to allow life to settle down for the child and parents and to firmly cement in the child’s mind who are mom and dad.

The general gist is to hang close to home for a while: [simplify] life, reduce the number of toys and trips away from home, set up a predictable routine. Generally allow time and space to get to know each other, and to allow the child to learn to trust and rely on her parents. It is the first step in establishing attachment.” Taken from Dawn’s blog.

As Christians, the WHY of cocooning felt a bit weightier even than nesting to simplify. We found that the loss our daughters had experienced was also about the loss of the deep care and nurture that The Creator intends for all the precious lives that He crafts. It was also about the loss of the original plan that He made for them when He looked at them in their mothers’ wombs. His redemptive plan to bring them to our home carried great joy for us but also required great responsibility to serve their little hearts. Hearts that He was entrusting to us for healing and restoration of hope.

The weight of this charge pushed me past the natural tendency I would have had to share my joy with the whole world around me. I put myself on a bit of a leash, if you will, and moved toward focusing on and prioritizing their needs for unconditional love, constancy, structure, and learning that Mommy and Daddy are Forever. That their place in our home is permanent – physically, emotionally, and spiritually. That this family is theirs to rely upon and will be the example of Christ’s healing and hope that their little hearts needed.

Our efforts to cocoon with our girls looked different between our two adoption journeys. How could they not? The adoptions were five years apart. A lot of learning and growing occurred in The Gang’s home in those five years. NOT the least of which was our expanded understanding of the trauma that this loss brings to a little heart and mind. While our methods were very different, the intentions were the same. At first, when bringing home our youngest daughter, our cocooning looked and felt so very different than before. This difference was stressing to me. I was out-of-sorts over trying to make this time resemble the cocooning of five years ago. But after praying about it and finding ways to negotiate our expectations better with our older kids, we found our groove again. A new groove! I found that once the older kids better understood (by both example and years of hearing Mom talk about what she was learning!) the “WHY?” behind cocooning, the easier those negotiations became. It was such a remarkable lesson to me about my heart and its intentions: keeping my motivation for cocooning was paramount. The change in how we implemented it was different but still a healthy out-flow of both that motivation AND our family’s season of life.

So whatever you choose to call it, I strongly urge you to consider some kind of cocooning with your newly adopted child. If you’ve been home for a while now and feel like your attachment to your child could use some re-anchoring, give some thought to temporarily stripping down your family calendar and get intentional about relationship-building time. It’s never too late to adjust your course and hone in on some things that need your time and attention. That’s the gift of parenting, isn’t it? The time and care you put into bringing healing and hope to any of your children is never wasted. His grace and mercy offer us daily do-overs! My favorite Scripture in recent days has been Lamentations 3:22-24:

“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”

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Below are some of my favorite resources that I have shared with friends over the years with regards to cocooning. Enjoy exploring the ideas presented!

“Finding Balance with “Cocooning” Newly Adopted Kids” – http://creatingafamily.org/adoption-category/finding-balance-cocooning-newly-adopted-kids/
“Should Grandparents Be Allowed to Care for a Newly Adopted Child” – http://creatingafamily.org/adoption-category/grandparents-allowed-care-newly-adopted-child/

“Creating Attachment with Your Adopted Child In the First Year” –  http://creatingafamily.org/adoption-category/creating-attachement-with-your-adopted-child-in-the-1st-year/

“How to Be The Village” – http://jenhatmaker.com/blog/2011/11/02/how-to-be-the-village
“After The Airport” – http://jenhatmaker.com/blog/2011/09/06/after-the-airport

And from my own blog:

“Speaking of Attachment, Part 3” (with links embedded for other parts of the series) – http://whitneygang.blogspot.com/2009/12/speaking-of-attachment-part-3.html

“Wow, I’m REALLY Glad That Is Over” (with part two following) – http://whitneygang.blogspot.com/2012/07/wow-im-really-glad-that-is-over.html

“To CSmith” – http://whitneygang.blogspot.com/2013/04/to-csmith.html

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Tracy WhitneyTracy, aka The Gang’s Momma, has been married to Todd, aka The Boss, for almost 25 years. Together they parent 6 kids (ages almost 21, 19, 16, 13, almost 8, & almost 4).  She is passionate about post-adoptive care and family support. In her downtime, she loves to read, write, cry over weekly episodes of Call The Midwife, and share a good cup of coffee with a friend. A confirmed extrovert, Tracy has met her match in their youngest daughter for both strength of will and love of socializing. Parenting her two youngest who came home through China’s special needs program is definitely the most challenging thing she’s ever done (between attachment issues & some complicated medical needs), but she’s trusting the Lord to use it all to make her a stronger, better mommy. (At least that’s what she tells herself over her 2nd or 3rd giant Tigger mug full of coffee almost every day!)  You can find the (very!) occasional musings of the momma at www.whitneygang.blogspot.com.

 

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We’re building the nest this month!

Head right on over HERE to find out more and learn about the 40+ businesses that support adoption and the work of The Sparrow Fund!