That You May Know Him Better

The Reality: Sometimes life is just HARD.

Sometimes everything is going along easily and you start to pinch yourself, thinking, "Wow, how did we get here? Thank you, Jesus!" And then, unexpectedly, the other shoe drops, and you think, "Wow...how did we get HERE? Help me, Jesus!" This is the case whether you've adopted or birthed your children, whether you're single, widowed, or divorced, whether you've never had kids or never been married. Life changes in an instant and you're left scrambling to figure out how the pieces fit now.

And it's not always changing for the worse! Sometimes they are good changes. Changes that bring about opportunities to grow, to trust God more, to step out in faith. But even exciting changes can be scary. Stepping into the unknown is always a leap of faith, even when you trust that God is guiding you. When we adopted our 5, we KNEW - no shadow of doubt - that God called us to do it, but that didn't keep us from quaking in our boots.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash
The last few days have brought about some challenging changes in dynamics for us - not bad, per se, but different. New. Potentially hard and full of pitfalls. There have been some tears, some anger, and a WHOLE lot of prayers for wisdom. I think it's often easier to step out in faith when it only involves you, or perhaps you and your spouse, but when it involves your child or children, it's a little harder.

This week I felt protective of the kids, not wanting them to have to deal with...well, I guess with life. Which isn't realistic, and that's quickly where God brought me. He reminded me, yet again, that these kids belong to Him - I'm just a temporary caretaker (just like ALL parents - biological, adoptive, or foster). He created them, He saved them, He is growing them, and He knows what their futures hold. He already knows the challenges they will face, and how they will respond. My job is to pray, to guide, and, ultimately, to continually point them back to Christ and the Scriptures for...everything!

Take ACTION: Pray for your kids!

I was reading in Ephesians yesterday and was struck by Paul's prayers for the church in Ephesus and how appropriate they were to pray on behalf of our kids (emphasis mine)...
"I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, SO THAT YOU MAY KNOW HIM BETTER. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that YOU MAY KNOW THE HOPE TO WHICH HE HAS CALLED YOU, the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints, and in His incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of His mighty strength, which He exerted in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly realms," {Ephesians 1:17-20 - NIV}
This. This is my prayer for the children God has placed in our home. This is my prayer for myself - that I may know Him better and know the hope to which He has called me. This is my encouragement for you - to pray this for yourself, your children, your spouse, your church family. The world will crumble and fall - some days it feels like it already is! - but the Word of God will last for ever, and His power will sustain us through the highs and lows of our earthly lives.


Why Adoption Requires Us to Pursue God

While out for my morning walk today, I was listening to the audio version of A.W. Tozer's classic book, The Pursuit of God (this link takes you to the FREE Kindle & Audio version). It's no secret that the writings and wisdom of Tozer have played an important role in my life (especially when it comes to battling anxiety), but I almost came to a full stop as I listened to the narrator read the following passage (it's long, but it's so worthwhile to read!)...
The idea of cultivation and exercise, so dear to the saints of old, has now no place in our total religious picture. It is too slow, too common. We now demand glamour and fast flowing dramatic action. A generation of Christians reared among push buttons and automatic machines is impatient of slower and less direct methods of reaching their goals. We have been trying to apply machine-age methods to our relations with God. We read our chapter, have our short devotions and rush away, hoping to make up for our deep inward bankruptcy by attending another gospel meeting or listening to another thrilling story told by a religious adventurer lately returned from afar.

The tragic results of this spirit are all about us. Shallow lives, hollow religious philosophies, and preponderance of the element of fun in gospel meetings, the glorification of men, trust in religious externalities, quasi-religious fellowships, salesmanship methods, the mistaking of dynamic personality for the power of the Spirit: these and such as these are the symptoms of an evil disease, a deep and serious malady of the soul.

For this great sickness that is upon us no one person is responsible, and no Christian is wholly free from blame. We have all contributed, directly or indirectly, to this sad state of affairs. We have been too blind to see, or too timid to speak out, or too self-satisfied to desire anything better than the poor average diet with which others appear satisfied. To put it differently, we have accepted one another's notions, copied one another's lives and made one another's experiences the model for our own. And for a generation the trend has been downward. Now we have reached a low place of sand and burnt wire grass and, worst of all, we have made the Word of Truth conform to our experience and accepted this low plane as the very pasture of the blessed.

It will require a determined heart and more than a little courage to wrench ourselves loose from the grip of our times and return to Biblical ways. But it can be done. [...]

What God in His sovereignty may yet do on a world-scale I do not claim to know: but what He will do for the plain man or woman who seeks His face I believe I do know and can tell others. Let any man turn to God in earnest, let him begin to exercise himself unto godliness, let him seek to develop his powers of spiritual receptivity by trust and obedience and humility, and the results will exceed anything he may have hoped in his leaner and weaker days.

Any man who by repentance and a sincere return to God will break himself out of the mold in which he has been held, and will go to the Bible itself for his spiritual standards, will be delighted with what he finds there.

Let us say it again: The Universal Presence is a fact. God is here. The whole universe is alive with His life. And He is no strange or foreign God, but the familiar Father of our Lord Jesus Christ whose love has for these thousands of years enfolded the sinful race of men. And always He is trying to get our attention, to reveal Himself to us, to communicate with us. We have within us the ability to know Him if we will but respond to His overtures. (And this we call pursuing God!) We will know Him in increasing degree as our receptivity becomes more perfect by faith and love and practice.
O God and Father, I repent of my sinful preoccupation with visible things. The world has been too much with me. Thou hast been here and I knew it not. I have been blind to Thy Presence. Open my eyes that I may behold Thee in and around me. For Christ's sake, Amen.
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

From the beginning of our adoption journey (which started back in 2012), we have been bombarded with book recommendations and human examples that we were encouraged to explore, follow, and emulate. In the two and a half years since we met and began our journey with our five children, we have faced praise and adulation for our choices to follow God and turn our world #rightsideup. The reality is that we neither agree with the human "wisdom" found in the training books nor have we modeled our parenting choices after those who have adopted before us. Nor do we deserve any accolades for (reluctantly) following what God told us to do. 

We didn't adopt because someone else we knew had. We didn't adopt because we wanted children (read our story to know why that wasn't the case!). We didn't adopt because we were looking to find fulfillment or scratch a spiritual itch. We didn't adopt because we were inspired by a book or a video. We adopted because we chose to obey a calling. Because we made a choice to trust God, even when we thought He had the wrong people. Adoption was our way of choosing to pursue God. 

I have had parents come up to me and say, "Why are things going so well for you? What are you doing? Do you have any recommendations?" Yes, yes I do, and it's so simple you won't believe me. Devour Proverbs. Read Deuteronomy 11. Don't ignore the truth of God's Word. Throw out the adoption and parenting books written by so-called experts, and listen to the One who created your children. In our baptism-by-fire parenting experience, the biggest lesson we have learned is that if we want to be the parents these kids need, we MUST pursue God in our own lives. We must become receptive to what He wants us to learn, and how He wants us to engage and interact with the children (and others). We must break ourselves out of the mold to which we have become comfortably accustomed, and go to the Bible for our spiritual (and parenting) standards. We must actively pursue the things of God - as individuals, and as (adoptive) parents. 

Tozer reminds us that "we have accepted one another's notions, copied one another's lives and made one another's experiences the model for our own." Stop looking at everyone else, accepting their solutions for discipline and structure, copying their choices and wishing for their experiences. God didn't give you their life. He didn't give you those kids. He didn't allow you to experience everything that has brought them to this point. Stop looking back towards Egypt and start being open to what God has for you - uniquely you - and those that He has allowed you to influence. In order to be the parent (or spouse or friend or co-worker or child) that God wants you to be, you must put aside all worldly wisdom and actively, passionately, and proactively pursue a deeper relationship with our Maker. I guarantee that you will be amazed and humbled by the results.


Looking for Common Ground

I don't do a lot of adoption advice, because if adopting these 5 kids has taught me anything at all, it's that each child (and each adoption) is completely different. What worked for one of our kids may not work for one of their siblings. And our adoption story may strike a chord with you, or you may be wondering why it was so terrible when yours was so great. Either way...I just don't do a lot of advice.

However, I did want to share something that we do that has turned into a tradition of sorts, and could be something for you to consider - especially if you're newly returned to the U.S. and facing a language barrier, or if you've adopted (or are fostering) an older child.

One of the first things I ever did one-on-one with our oldest daughter (age 12 at the time of adoption) was to take her to a paint-your-own-pottery place. In the beginning, the kids were all at different schools, and school holidays and vacations rarely aligned with each other. This would leave me with days to kill with our oldest who was refusing to speak to me (and definitely did NOT like me). I knew she liked to draw and paint, however, so one day I told her that we were going out to lunch and then to a pottery shop. Despite her scowl and "I don't care" shrug of the shoulders, I could tell she was excited to be doing something, even if it meant being with me.

I introduced her to 5 Guys (burgers & fries), which she reluctantly ate (and now loves) and then we drove over to our local pottery shop and I told her she could pick anything to paint. It took her a while to decide - but it took me even longer to choose, and I suddenly heard her thickly accented English saying, "Come on, Carrie! You take so long!" It was almost the most she'd said to me (other than angry outbursts in Spanish), and she was actually smiling because she was giving me a hard time. For the next hour, we sat in relative silence while we painted, but it was the most pleasant interaction we'd had since we'd met.

Of course, when the other four heard about what we'd done, they all wanted to go and do the same, but I held off for a few months, wanting it to be something special for her. Something that she and I had done together, giving us a first good memory. These days, we grab my mother and head over to the pottery store every spring and fall break from school. One can only paint so many mugs before it becomes excessive, so this last time I decided to start an ornament collection. An ugly sweater memory of how quietly painting gave us common ground, even if it was only for an hour. 

If you've recently adopted and are struggling to find common ground, why not try something out of the ordinary? Paint pottery, visit an ice cream shop where you can select your own toppings, trek out to a corn maze or pick your own pumpkins. Mere hours after we arrived at home with the kids, we were all out at a cut-your-own Christmas tree farm, making our first memory as a family. We went again last year. And this year, our oldest heard about an Operation Christmas Child event that the youth from our church were going to help with, but before she signed up, she wanted to make sure it wouldn't interfere with our tradition of Black Friday Christmas Tree cutting. Traditions matter, so look for something you wouldn't normally do and start building those memories.


She Doesn't Call Me "Mom"

When we first saw the case file for our five kids, we knew right away that these were the children God had chosen to place in our lives. But that didn't stop us from having some significant concerns about certain aspects of the potential adoption.

Our biggest issue, apart from there being a boy (and the practicality of where he would sleep in our home), was the age of the oldest child. Her personal history, as spelled out in the file, was a difficult one. There were times when I felt myself boiling with anger over what she had experienced in her first eleven years of life, and times when I feared what she would bring with her into our home. Despite the on-paper assurances that she was excited about being adopted (which did not turn out to be true), I had an innate sense that if we said yes to this, it would be hard. Was it ever!

And then there was the reality that, by the time the adoption was finalized (she was 12 at that point), we would only have six years with her in our home before she turned 18. Six years to make an impact, six years to share God's love with her, six years to try to cope with everything that had influenced her for the first twelve years of her life. By the time she graduated (Lord willing!) from high school, we would only have been in her life for one-third of it. That's not long, and the responsibility of it weighed on me. And still does.

When we arrived in country to meet the kids, we were met with cold stares. In the initial financial plan that was given to us from the adoption agency, there was an optional line item to have a professional photographer and videographer there to record the event. We opted out of that - thinking that it would make an already awkward meeting even more surreal. This was not a reality television show...this was actual, broken, reality.

Over the next few days and weeks, we learned the truth that the oldest girl in this family group had no desire to be adopted. In the country of their birth, because of her age, she had the power to turn us down as parents and end the adoption for herself and her siblings. She very quickly made it clear that she had no desire to leave her birth country, and she could definitely do without us. As I told her later (which shows just how far we've come!), the feeling was mutual. Although I initially felt compassion for her, that quickly dwindled with every lie, snub, shouting match, and ignorant argument that she presented us with. But even though we couldn't see a future together, God still did, and His plan - as always - prevailed, despite the attempts of man to stop it.

Our first year together was rough. She hated being with us - and me specifically - and made that clear through her behavior and words. She didn't understand our faith, but that didn't stop her from diving right into the youth group at our church, and they embraced her with open arms. When she attempted to manipulate more screen time out of me in exchange for reading the Bible for one hour, every day, I chuckled inwardly and then acquiesced to her plan (much to her amazement). I told her to start in John. Less than a week later, she asked me what to read next. I told her Romans. Before she was half done with Romans, she accepted Christ as her Savior. Then the real change began.

We're just two years into this, but it's hard to remember that sometimes when I'm cooking with her in the kitchen, hanging out in her room to hear about her day, or sharing a sarcastic glance when one of her younger siblings says something that strikes us both as funny. In so many ways, she and I could not be more different - but God has become our Common Ground. We still don't hug (her choice), and certainly have our moments of disagreement (usually centered around the amount of computer time she gets), but God has brought us so far. A year ago she used to tell me she couldn't wait to go back to her birth country...to get away from me. Now she shares how she thinks God might be calling her back there as a missionary, and she knows that I'm not here to hold on to her, but to encourage her to follow wherever God leads.

While the younger four now call me "mommy" and seem to accept that title as my role in their lives, the oldest continues to call me by my first name, which is not a battle I choose to fight. In many ways, it makes sense to me. In the past, I have described our relationship as one that is closer to a foster child/parent, just a lot more permanent and legal. On her birth certificate I am now listed as her mother, and on her school papers I sign the "Parent" line, but in her heart I have not replaced the woman who gave birth to her and impacted her (positively or negatively) for the first eleven years of her life. And I accept that. I never felt called to be a mom, and maybe that's why her refusal to refer to me as such doesn't bother me, but I did feel God's calling to be an influence in the lives of each of these kids, and I can do that no matter what I'm called. My job isn't to force my way into her life and try to take the place of her birth mother, my job is to continually point her back to our mutual Heavenly Father and leave the work of conviction and change up to Him. So she doesn't call me Mom...at least she calls me her sister in Christ. And I willingly choose the latter.   


Two Year Thoughts

Let's get real here. Sometimes I feel a little bit jealous - or it may be closer to angry - when I see people with these picture-perfect adoption stories, where everything is smooth sailing (at least to the outside world), and the child in question wants to be adopted. You know what I'm talking about, right? The videos that give everyone warm fuzzies, the first-meeting pictures that make it seem like a match made in Heaven, the happy endings and tear-jerking reunions. Let me state this clearly, for the record: that is not every adoption story. 

Sometimes I feel that the other side isn't accurately portrayed because it doesn't get the accolades that the feel good stories do...but the other side is there. The hard, the ugly, the anger, the pain... it doesn't bring in Facebook likes or millions of video hits, but it's the reality for more people than you might think, it's just that no one talks about it. It's not popular to say that you didn't fall madly in love with your kid the first time you laid eyes on them. It's not kosher to admit that you wondered whether an irreversible mistake had been made. It's not fun to hear that parents hide in closets, bathrooms, and pantries, crying over the muck that they are walking through while the outside world talks about how amazing they are for adopting. It's not easy to say you feel like an adoption fraud. But it's honest. And people, it's time to get honest. 

I've shared some of our story here, and on the Facebook page, and if you've read any of the story, you know that our adoption of five siblings back in 2016 was not happiness, sunshine, and roses. But that's how GOD was able to receive ALL the glory. Prior to making the trek to their home country to meet them and finalize the adoption, we found ourselves constantly telling people that we were neither superheros nor crazy (well, maybe a little bit crazy), and expressing as clearly as we knew how that this was all God's story and His plan and we were just coming along for the ride. It was all true, in theory, but when the rubber met the road and we were face to face with the kids, the reality set in, and rather than feeling anything like superheros, we felt like sinking ships, overwhelmed by the magnitude of what God told us to take on. In fact, if we weren't 110% sure that it WAS God's plan (and not ours), we absolutely would have bailed. 

I remember feeling physically sick as we walked up the path to the building where the kids were waiting to meet us. When we walked into the room, we had a wall of people (social workers, lawyers, and care givers) standing behind us, waiting to witness that movie-worthy moment. Only it wasn't. The kids set on a bench, squished together, while Peter and I awkwardly walked forward to introduce ourselves. What do you say in that moment? 
"Hey, thanks for joining the party. We're planning to adopt you and take you away from everything you've ever known to live in a new country, learn a new language, and live with people who are still essentially strangers. Why aren't you happy?" 
Within hours of our meeting, it was made clear to us that the oldest girl - at that time, age 12 - had no intention of being adopted by us, and had every intention (and the support of certain adults in her life) of saying, "No" when we went before the judge. And she had the right to do so. She had the power to single-handedly end the adoption for she and her siblings, and she intended to use it. You don't see that in the million-hits videos, do you?

Three days of day-trips with the kids turned into two weeks of daily visits and hours spent in the car. Our visit to the judge was postponed and replaced with visits to a child psychologist for our two oldest girls (and on one surreal occasion, through a translator, us). Our initial plan of 5-6 weeks in country was extended to 8 weeks, minimum. We had to pay to extend our stay at the rental condo, pay to extend our rental car, pay for more trips with the bus and it's (God-sent) driver, and pay for more "fun" outings with the kids (required by those in authority to prove that we knew how to entertain children). And all the time I grew angrier and angrier.

If this child didn't want to be adopted, then far be it from me to force her into something she didn't want to do. If her life in the children's home was so perfect, then heaven forbid I remove her from her unlimited access to Netflix, tablets, and video games. My life was just fine without kids in it, I never wanted to do this to begin with, and maybe, just maybe, this was God finally giving me my out! Oh yes, my friends, I went there. And then I hit bottom - yelling at God, angry tears, completely in, what Anne Shirley would call, "the depths of despair." But here's the most amazing thing: when I hit bottom - GOD WAS THERE.

Did He suddenly give me an overwhelming desire for children, or abundant love for these kids in particular? No, He did not. Did He smooth out the path and make these kids fall in love with us and suddenly become hungry for a traditional family and life in the United States? No, He did not. But what He did do was give me Exodus 14:14.

When those in authority were doing everything they could to stop or delay this process, I suddenly found peace in knowing that I just needed to be still. When our family's convictions about television were questioned and suddenly became the focus of whether the adoption would continue or end (yes, this adoption teetered on the brink because of our stance on TV - tell me Satan wasn't loving that!), I felt compelled to stick to the convictions God had given me just weeks before, and the Lord fought for me. And when our daughter found herself before the judge, fully prepared to answer "No" when asked if she agreed to the adoption, God would not allow the word to come out of her mouth and instead she answered, "Yes." When we learned to be still, God showed up in ways that I can't even begin to share here. 

We're two years into this now, and here are a few things that I've learned about adoption:
  • It gets better. In those first few months when people would ask me how we were doing, my ready response became, "We're surviving." And surviving - for a season - is okay. God kept us going through the darkest days and gave us glimpses of what could (and eventually, did) come, to keep us going. Two years out from meeting day and I can truly say that with God, all things are possible. Don't give up!
  • No two adoptions are alike. Some people may truly have those happy endings from day one - celebrate with them! But others may go to Hell and back before they get there - walk with them!
  • Stop comparing your story to the tear-jerker stories. I mean, hey, I was crying in our story, too, they just weren't tears of joy!
  • Every kid is unique. Sometimes I don't have a clue how to deal with these people who are so different from my INTJ self, BUT I know that God created them with a purpose. So when I don't have a clue what to do with them, I know the One who does, and I ask for His help - constantly.
  • There's a lot of bad advice out there. This is going to tick some of you off, but here it is: there is no adoption book that can tell you how to handle your kids, but God's Word applies to all.
  • God is in the people-changing business. He makes beautiful things out of brokenness, and does not accept a rough past as an excuse for present behaviors (that goes for all of us). 
  • Read the Bible with your kids. Show them what God says, and then let Him take it from there.
  • Love is a choice. I already knew this one, but putting it into practice with a man I already liked wasn't as hard as choosing to love angry, screaming, hateful, unappreciative children who'd already had a mom and didn't want a replacement. Every morning for the first year, I would get up and pray, "Lord, please help me choose to show them YOUR love today." 
  • Don't be afraid to talk about the birth parent(s). Our children's story is one for them to share, but I will say that our kids still have relatively recent photos of their birth mom. She was far from perfect, but kids don't see the mess, they just see their mom. Don't be afraid to talk about the birth parent(s), and, if they are still alive, pray for them with the kids.
  • Humble yourself. You are going to mess up more times than you care to count, so stop trying to control everything and learn how to be still and listen to God. 
Exodus 14:14 continues to be a theme verse for us, as parents, as we are daily faced with the new challenges and conundrums that come with raising these five for Him. Whether it's seeking wisdom on how to deal with lying, or what to do about a boy-crush, or how to handle a negative attitude, there are times with each child that we have said, "Lord, we've done what we know how to do. We've shared the truths from Your Word with them. Now we choose to be still and let you fight for us." And, surprise, surprise - He does. I may never have thousands of followers on my Facebook page, or hundreds of comments on a blog post. I may not write a best-selling book or have that trending video. But I have been given the amazing privilege of leading five kids to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, and now the responsibility of mentoring and discipling them to follow Him. No social media number could compare to the joy that comes from following Jesus in His calling.