Adoption is NOT...

Six and a half years ago, God turned our lives right side up when He led us to adopt a group of five siblings from a country in Central America. It has been, hands down, the most challenging and rewarding life adventure we have ever undertaken. And I wouldn't have done it at all if God had not clearly instructed us to do so (if you're new and have never read our story, I'd suggest you start there).

Personal Photo Property of CG Koens - DO NOT use without permission

If you're thinking about adoption, know someone who adopted, or once watched a heart-tugging video about adoption, you might have a slightly skewed view of what it entails. I cannot speak from experience when it comes to domestic adoptions, but I can share a taste of our experience adopting from outside of the United States. And no matter where your child was born, there are some overlapping commonalities in what they might struggle with. 

As I lay awake late one night, after having received multiple texts from our adult child, who continues to struggle with depression and anxiety, the idea of this post came to mind. There are so many things adoption is, and I will write about those in a different post, but I felt it was also important to share the things adoption isn't

Adoption is NOT going to "fix" the kids. 

Like it or not, you are simply the newest change in their lives. After we'd been home about 9 months, our middle daughter looked at us one day over dinner and, in her still-thick Spanish accent, asked me, "When do we move to the next house?" Thinking that she meant that we were going to sell and move, I asked her to clarify. "You know, when are we moving to the next people, to their house?

While I processed what she was saying, she continued to calmly shovel food into her mouth, as if she had just asked the most normal thing in the world. And for her, it was. I was just the next caregiver in a long line of the ones she'd had in her seven short years on this earth.

Adoption is NOT the same thing as a "regular" family. 

No matter how much we love and care for them, we're not the same thing as being loved and wanted by their biological family. That is a barrier that is very hard to overcome. Recently, my kids asked me how old their mom was. Questions like this still catch me off guard, but I try to answer them as matter-of-factly as I can...because I will never be their first mom.

All the love, care, attention, and support in the world doesn't change the fact that I can't tell them their birth story, if they were fussy babies or when they slept through the night. I can't tell them what their first word was or which cousin or grandmother they look like, and the list goes on. 

Adoption is NOT a free pass to tell their story to anyone who asks. 

My kids each have a story. Every story is different, even though they are all biologically related. Each one has their own memories (or lack of them), experiences, feelings, and ways of processing. And it's not mine to tell. 

People often ask about their "real family," but I refuse to get into the "gorey details" of their conception and early family life, before we met them. You don't need to know. Don't judge my kids by where they started (they had no choice in that)...rather, judge them by who they are becoming and the content of their developing character.

Adoption is NOT easy. 

Although there were moments when I laughed in understanding while watching Instant Family, the fact that it was all wrapped up in a nice bow at the end didn't ring true to me. At least, not to our story. If you think that the sun will come out tomorrow...let me tell you...Annie is also a fantasy. 

Do our kids love us now? Yes, I believe they do, to the best of their abilities. Do I believe all the rough days are behind us? Not on your life. There is always something that comes out of the blue, triggers a kid, or causes an avalanche of emotions to come pouring out. 

Adoption is NOT for everyone. 

Before you decide that adoption is for you, take a long, hard look at your motivations, and be brutally honest. 
  • If you're adopting because you've always wanted to be a parent, and you're looking for a sense of fulfillment - stop
  • If you're adopting because you want to "save" children from a difficult environment - stop
  • If you're adopting and you think the kids will be grateful - stop
If you're not ready to sacrifice flesh and die to self...well...welcome to the club! It's amazing how God uses tiny little people to reveal the ugliness of our own hearts. If that's something you know you need, but you are afraid of the pain of doing it, I would say you are ready. Buckle up for the ride!

Final Thoughts

If you've personally adopted, what would you add to this list? I could have gone on, but according to people who know more than me, no one reads long blog posts anymore. This one is probably too long already, but it's a starting point. I'd love to hear your thoughts, whether we agree or not, so click that comment button and let's have a conversation!


Can I Trust God?

As the parent of an almost-adult teenager, I find myself up against new challenges on a regular basis. How much freedom is too much? How much restriction will push her over the line to rebellion? How is being a teenager different now than it was 30 years ago? What will others think of the choices I'm making as a parent? And the most surprising of all (to me)...can I really trust God when it feels like the floor is continually falling out from underneath me? 

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

When what I thought I knew I am no longer sure of, can I still trust God? When my heart is wrenched out of my body, twisted, stepped on, and shoved back in by the choices and actions of those I care about, does God still have a plan, and can I trust Him to follow through with it? As an INTJ, is my sensible, logical way not better for her? Won't it keep her safe from harm, and isn't that really what we want? Can I really trust God with THIS? 

This is hard. This isn't in a book. There are no standard answers because there are no standard people. We are all unique, we are all different...and yet we are all made in the image of God. So, in the end, the answer to my big question - can I trust God? - is yes. But what does that look like? 

  • First of all, it looks like spending quite a bit more time in His Word. It's hard to trust someone you don't really know, and one of the best ways to know God is to saturate yourself in His love letter to us - the Bible. 
  • It also involves quite a bit more communication in the form of prayer. But not just praying that God will do things your way, rather, praying for God's will to be done, asking Him to change you (rather than the person you're praying for), and then being still long enough to hear from His Spirit.
  • There's some necessary introspection as well. Do you remember what it was like to be a teenager? Do you recall your own frustrations and missteps? And more than that, do you remember what you learned from them? What if your parents swooped in and protected you from the fallout? Would you have learned in the same way? My guess is, no, you wouldn't have.
  • And finally, looking back at what God has already done. This is why pillars of remembrance, whether physical (pile of rocks or shelf full of journals) or mental, are so important, because we, like the Israelites, are a forgetful people. But when you can look back and see what God has already done, the prayers He has already answered, the ways He has led you before, it's easier to believe that He will do it again. 

So, can I trust God? Can I trust Him when I receive that call at midnight? Can I trust Him when a child runs blindly towards the world? Can I trust Him to give me wisdom when the time comes? Yes, I can. Why? Because He's done it before. Because He saved me from my own stupid choices. Because when I fervently seek Him, He is faithful to respond. Because both the Old and New Testaments are filled with this truth, this hope that is ours if we so choose to accept it. 

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight. (Pr. 3:5-6)

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (Heb. 13:8)

You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in You. Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD, the LORD Himself, is the Rock eternal. (Is. 26:3-4) 

We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. (Rom. 8:28) 

Will it be easy? No. Will there be days when you want to take over again, because clearly God didn't get the memo about your plan for your kids (or your life)? Yes. Will you still wake up at 3 AM every night of the week and be faced with the choice to trust Him again or wallow in your pit of "what ifs"? I'm not going to lie, this may quite possibly continue to happen (even as I'm learning to let go and trust Him, this is still a nightly battle for me). But GOD is faithful. GOD is trustworthy. GOD is good, even when all you can see in the moment is darkness. 

Rejoice always, pray continually, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God for you, in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)


Confessions from a Navel Gazer

I threatened to run away from home today. #TrueStory

And when a child requested food from a local restaurant (and gave me money for it), I practically threw myself in the car and talked to God all the way there, because I knew my attitude wasn't coming from Him. I knew what opportunities I had at home to show love and practice service, and I know Satan would love nothing more than to keep me gazing at my navel. And for a moment there...he won. But just for a moment.

Loving your neighbor is hard when the neighbor takes you for granted. It's hard when the neighbor complains. It's hard when the neighbor makes poor choices and refuses to accept responsibility for them. It's hard when your neighbor can point out all of your flaws, but ignores the things they need to work through. But guess what? There are no caveats to the call to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. #LoveGodLovePeople

And so I didn't "take the money and run," rather I confessed my bad attitude to the Lord as I drove to the restaurant, and asked Him to help me love through Him and because of Him. And when the next child needed something, moments after I returned home, I was able to respond with a smile and kind words - not because of me, but because of Him.

The thing I realized on my short car ride is that I'm still me. I might be an adoptive, homeschooling, self-employed mom of five, but I'm still an introvert who gets totally worn out, and who wearies from the constant noise and busyness. I'm still an INTJ who struggles when those around me are neither reasonable nor rational. The idea of picking up and moving somewhere totally new, where no one knows me or knows my story, can be quite appealing to me, depending on the day. To start over, and become whatever I want to be...how fun would that be? And yet...it wouldn't. Because my story is here. It's filled with kids who need love and compassion and attention, and it's filled with hurting and broken people (much like myself) who need a listening ear and a safe place to land. It requires dying to self if I want to truly live, and ultimately, that's far better than the temporary high of doing what it is that I want to do (or what I *think* I want to do).

So when your to-do list is long and your cares are many, when your children are bringing you to your knees and you don't think you can handle one more piece of unsolicited advice from people who mean well, but can't possibly understand your unique situation... guess what? You're not alone. And in those times, God sustains. It's okay to get in the car and tell God you want to drive away and never come back because He can handle hearing that (and your kids cannot). It's okay to sigh and cry and wonder what another life would have looked like because He already knows you're thinking it. 

But once you've had your moment, it's time to stop gazing at your navel. Yes, life is challenging. Some days you may want to chuck it all, throw the car in gear, and see how far that 1/2 tank of gas will get you. We've all been there, but we needn't stay there. In fact, let's not, okay? Let's quit pulling the lint out of our belly buttons and stuffing our poor me pillows, and start recognizing the Spiritual battle we are in on a daily basis. The battle to choose self or choose obedience. The battle to gaze longingly at the brick pits of Egypt or gaze upwardly at the gates of Heaven. Which will you choose today? If you need to get in your car and go buy some fries while you think about it, that's okay. I've been there. 

Here's to choosing well and loving boldly. 


Love Your Neighbor

My last post on the Facebook page associated with this blog was back in October. I wrote a post that reflected on the fact that it had been five years since we met and adopted our five kids. I also requested prayer, because, despite the fact that it has been five years, we routinely face what I would refer to as a "challenging" time, with one child in particular. The fact that this happens every year during this season is not lost on me, and yet still takes me by surprise each time. It's not that I am surprised that it's happening, I just forget what season it is until suddenly we are in the midst of the challenge and it dawns on me, "Oh, right, it's that time of year again." 

So I asked, and the people who follow that page prayed, and God intervened. But not in the way you might think. He didn't change the child...He changed me. 

At the beginning of 2021, I started praying that I would want more of God in my life. I didn't know what that looked like or even how to get there, but I knew it was in His will for me to desire it, and so I prayed. And the Lord answered. He took me on a journey over the last 12 months that surprised me, because it didn't involve a change in those around me, but change within me. He broke my cynical spirit and replaced it with eyes to see the brokenness of this world as He does, with compassion rather than judgment.

Around the middle of the year, I started asking God to teach me how to love Him, because I realized I didn't know how to do that. I didn't understand what it meant to truly love God with all of my heart, soul, mind, and strength. I "loved" God, but I didn't really know what it meant to be in love with God, in a deeper way than any love I have ever known on earth. I still remember the morning this fall when I woke up and the first thought in my head was, "I love You, Jesus. I LOVE YOU!" And it was said and felt in the same way - but more - as I would have said it to my beloved spouse of 21 years. 

In Walt Disney's 1991 version of Beauty and the Beast, when Beast lets Belle go to find her father, Mrs. Potts softly says, "He's finally learned to love." That was step one. What I slowly began to grasp was that if I didn't know how to love God the Father, then it was essentially impossible to love the people He created who are often not loveable at all. The ones who are nothing like me, who make poor decisions, whose behavior can often feel like nails on a chalkboard, and yet...have been created in the very image of this One I claim to love.

So after praying for God to reveal to me how to actually love Him as He calls all Believers to do (first in Deuteronomy 6:5 and then again in Matthew 22:37 and Mark 12:30), I then began to pray that He would show me how to let that love for Him overflow to my neighbors (Leviticus 19:18, Mark 12:31). My daily prayer was this simple: Father, teach me what it means to love you, and teach me how to love my neighbor as myself. I prayed it first in obedience, and then in faith, and finally out of a desire to be stripped away of self -- because self clearly wasn't working. It wasn't getting through to anyone, least of all the child who was challenging me every step of the way.  

I understand the expert in the law (Luke 10:25-37) a bit better now. Because it's easy to glibly spout off, "Oh, sure Lord, I know what Your Word says...love the Lord with all your heart, soul, and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. I've got this." But when Christ looks at you and goes right to the heart of the issue - and it is a heart issue - and we try to justify ourselves ("But who is my neighbor?" Luke 10:29), our refusal to look honestly at self no longer works. And just as He did with the expert, He did with me. "You want to love your neighbor, Carrie? Start with the child in your house. And then move on to her friends." Who was the neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers? The one who showed him mercy. "Go and do likewise." 

And so, in November of 2021, God broke my heart in a whole new way. It was as if the lenses of self had been stripped from my eyes, and instead of saying what the world would think made sense ("Those friends are toxic, they are no good for you, you can do better!"), I began to say, "Bring them here. Let us love them. I willingly invest my resources (time, money, self) into them, because Jesus thinks they are worthy of His blood and forgiveness." And the child noticed. And when the day came, when I found myself weeping in her room, confessing my years of "gut-obedience love" for her, and sharing that God was changing me, and my love for her was so different now - the authenticity of that was allowed to be played out. 

I will never love perfectly, but I hope that I will consistently love well. Christ's love is perfect, it drives out fear (1 John 4:18), it takes the hearts of stone and turns them into hearts of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26). In 2021, God taught me that my neighbor lives in my house. My neighbor is the hard child that God placed in my care. My neighbor is the child who continues to make the same mistakes and poor choices. My neighbor carries my last name. My neighbor is the one who I was ready to write off, and instead, God used her to teach me just how far His love can go. Love God, love people. God will handle all the rest. 


"This should be obvious, but..." Advice from an Adoptive Mom of 5

People who know we adopted 5 kids have often asked me if I have any advice for other families who are looking to adopt. I find this to be a difficult question to answer because there's so much I want to say that would be utterly and completely against every adoption book or training we read or received while in this years-long process. Most of the time I keep my mouth shut, and turn down offers to share on blogs and social accounts, because our story is really just the story of God working through two broken vessels. 

In the end, our great big parenting secret involves reading the Bible, and choosing to obey it. When we were at a loss - and there have been many, many times when we have looked at each other and said, "What in the WORLD do we do?!" - God has brought a specific verse or passage to mind, giving us clarity and insight into how to apply it in our particular situation. God's Word is the best parenting handbook out there, whether you gave birth to your children or someone else did.

Advice point #2: You want to adopt or have a biological child? Get on your knees NOW. We would not be where we are today if we had tried to rely on the wisdom of man, whether that be ours, or someone else's. These kids - just like all kids, biological or adopted - belong to God, and He has given them to us for a period of time to teach and love and nurture and instruct. We knew nothing about being a parent - just like all first-time parents - and we have relied on the strength and wisdom of God to guide us, because He knows these kids better than we do. Parenting methods, cultural norms, and social biases may change, but God is the SAME - yesterday, today, and forever.

Another piece of the puzzle is to recognize individuality. Whether you're adopting one kid or five, or if you're raising biological kids, keep this in mind: no two kids are alike. Sure, some of our kids have similar personalities, but each one responds differently to correction, and the choice of corrective measure changes based on what makes each kid tick. In our five, we have a broad spectrum of personalities. One child wants to be in the center of every activity, telling everyone what to do and how to do it right - so to remove that child from the situation and go to another room is pure torture because they are no longer in control. Another child will listen to your reasons for changing behavior, and then usually removes herself to a solitary location to think it over and/or calm down. The point is: you can ask other parents what they do, but in the end you just have to get to know your own kids and then do what works best for each child. Yes, it takes work. It's called, "being a parent" - so deal with it and do it.

Finally, there's all the unsolicited advice you will receive. While people mean well (most of the time), the fact of the matter is - they aren't in your shoes. Like the Madagascar penguins, just smile and wave, boys, smile and wave. After four years with our kids, my parents (who also raised five children - all biological) finally came to me and said, "We had no idea what you were getting into. We've never dealt with what you're dealing with. And we have no advice to give you, because God is clearly giving you what you need for these kids." Yes, thank you. He has, He is, and He will. 

But to tell people to butt out or mind their own business won't get you anywhere either, so when those folks come along and tell you how to do it better or do it differently, grit your teeth, thank them for their input, and maybe even spend some time considering what they've said and if there's any merit to it at all. Because sometimes there is. Sometimes you are blind to a situation because you're right in the middle of it, living with it day in and day out. Sometimes you're just surviving. And so be open to the idea that, just maybe, there may be a nugget of truth in what they say. As I've been known to tell various kids on occasion: be willing to be wrong. If you can't be wrong, you can't learn. 

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TALK TO ME! If you've ever adopted or had children, if you were adopted, or if you've worked with children or are a childless individual who has ideas (because, believe it or not, a bunch of the theories we had before becoming parents, were actually valid - just because you're not a parent, doesn't mean you can't see an issue or offer a suggestion!), what would you add? I'd love to hear from you...even if we disagree. 😊