Who knew a game of pick up sticks could prop open a stubborn window into my son’s world, releasing the beautiful breeze of his soul?
My middle child and I had been going to counseling for a few months for a behavior issue that my husband and I felt ill-prepared to handle alone. In the end, I found that counseling changed my parenting and perspective more than my son, but the resulting confidence has helped me immensely.
Though he sometimes fought our counseling visits, my seven year old’s favorite part was playing games with me. We’d snicker over role-playing, and his infectious laugh filled the room when we tried to create a story together, each adding one ridiculous sentence at a time.
The counselor pointed out that part of what he craved was simply time with his mom, and the games provided that opportunity. But she also had a knack for turning games into tools to shape us and help my son to talk more.
One of his favorite games during counseling was pick up sticks. Despite my beating him the first time, he was hooked to play again. The second time we played, the counselor asked each of us to share some important part of our life every time we picked up a stick successfully. It could be something that made us happy, sad, afraid or angry…but we couldn’t keep playing until we shared.
How precious to know the joys and even fears of his seven years of life, the things that he counts as important. And how wonderful that he was enjoying the game just as much as I was.
In fact, he enjoyed it so much that after the first time we played, I ordered him his own set on Amazon for his upcoming birthday. When the package arrived, I tore into the yellow bubble wrap to reveal the anticipated toy.
But once past the shrink wrap, I uncovered an unexpected flaw within the small box: the wooden sticks were covered in some kind of mold or mildew!
Disappointed, I decided to return the sticks and get new ones. So I printed the return label off amazon and promptly…delayed mailing the package for weeks. Ahem. I forgot…or I got lazy…or we had the stomach bug. You know. The usual excuses.
The point is, I ended up mailing that package of pick up sticks much later than I planned, on a Tuesday….the day of my son’s last counseling appointment.
That day at counseling we played pick up sticks again while my son shared pieces of his heart. As my son cleaned up the pile of sticks so we could leave, the counselor looked at him warmly and said, “Those are yours to keep. That’s my parting gift to you.”
My son could not have been happier with that little pile of used wooden sticks- it was an absolute treasure to him.
And it ended up being an unexpected treasure for me as well.
As I contemplated the events later, I felt God impressing on me the symbolism of me putting the old sticks in the mailbox the very same day that my son received a set as a gift. It was as though God was reminding me that when I let go of my needs and surrender them to Him, only then can He provide for me in His delightful way.
Which brings me to three questions for myself and for anyone of you who has burdens or needs weighing your soul.
1: What needs do you need to put in the “mailbox” today and give to God?
What stresses, needs or worries are you trying to hold onto or fix on your own that you need to release to God? Is it work? Your children? Your finances? Your dreams? Your marriage or relationships?
Today I’m going to a doctor’s visit that stresses me…I need to put that in. We have new financial twists in our road ahead…I could stand to drop that in the box. I’m trying to finish a book and need clarity of next steps…maybe I need to mail that out too.
Those burdens aren’t doing me any good sitting in a package that I won’t let go of.
2: What is keeping you from putting your needs in God’s hands?
As I mentioned, it took me a very long time to put that small package of pick up sticks in the mail when it could have happened immediately. Putting that package in the box was a small thing, but it required a specific action from me.
In the same way, we sometimes hold onto our needs much longer than we need to, with one excuse or another. We’re afraid to give up control, we’re afraid God won’t answer as we want, or maybe it hasn’t even occurred to us yet to ask God for help. Maybe we think we’ve given it to God, but we find that we keep taking that package out of the mailbox because what if something happens to it in transit? Trusting God seems simple…but it really does require us to act. And that action is a daily, even an hourly thing.
3. What does it mean for you to accept God’s provision instead of yours?
For starters, we all know that giving our needs to God doesn’t always mean that the answer will show up in our hands at the end of the day like my son’s pick up sticks. God’s ways are not our ways, His timing isn’t always obvious to us, and His provisions sometimes don’t look the way we’d expect.
I was expecting to order a brand new game for my son with my money and have it show up in our mailbox. Instead we got a used set from a surprising source.
In the same way, God’s answers may not always come in the timing or manner we expect. But if we give our needs to God and ask Him to help us see His provisions, we may be surprised by all the ways He’s already showing up. He longs to give us good things and for us to trust Him as a child trusts their parents.
I hope you’ll stick a stamp on something you’re holding onto today and set it free…and if you do, please share with the rest of us what you let go of or how God provides for you as you wait.
I’m currently writing a book about living powerfully purposeful lives not because of what we do but who we are and who we reflect.
It’s a book about not striving, not comparing, not trying to measure our worth by the world’s standards. So freeing.
Ha. Don’t go writing God books unless you plan to let God write a thing or two in your life in the process.
See, the tricky thing about writing a book is that you’re supposed to market it. You’re supposed to try to convince a real-time publisher to look your way which, in today’s world, often requires accumulating thousands of followers on social media, beefing up your list of email subscribers, or already being famous.
So…let’s see…um…unless you want to play super fast and loose with the word “famous”, I got nothing. Not a great checklist for me.
And I’ve wrestled lately with how far my reality lies from that ideal platform I’d love to achieve.
I have my precious and faithful readers online and I’m so grateful to you all. Seriously- your encouragement and your presence here has been amazing to me.
But don’t we all have those gaps in our lives that make us wonder if we’re really enough? If we really matter? Whether it’s a lack of facebook followers, job title, education, recognition or apparent influence…don’t we sometimes feel like we’re always missing “enough”?
Going into January I had all the intentions of getting my ducks launched, my email subscription started, and baiting people to start following my blog with the virtual candy of choice: a free download. (Which may come one day- I’m not knocking the idea.)
But January brought a slightly different perspective (and also a stomach bug, but that’s hardly the point). Here I am literally writing the book on being completely content in my identity in God and serving people instead of striving. And I’m struggling with those two things. OK God. I’m listening.
And I really believe that one of the greatest thieves of our joy, of our hope, of our contentment…is the thief of “not enough”. The brutal lie that who we are today isn’t as significant as who we’ll be tomorrow.
Because tomorrow surely we’ll have accumulated those online followers. We’ll have mastered that diet plan. We’ll have proven to our boss that we have what it takes. We’ll have managed to stop yelling at our kids, because we will have figured out how to turn them into tiny angelic robots. Someone will finally give us the chance to really shine. Tomorrow. Yes, tomorrow we might be worth something.
Only it’s not true…at least not the way we think. The fundamental premise of my book is that you and I are absolutely valuable TODAY. No strings attached. Nothing we’ve done (wrong or right) in the past or will do in the future changes that incredible reality.
You are worth so much more as is than you could dream. You were designed in the image of your Creator. You were given life as a co-creator, free to breathe life back into the world around you. You are loved to the point of death and back.
I know this concept seems small and redundant, but if we were to actually embrace this idea in our lives it would change everything. No more need to measure our worth by looking around us, no more thinking we’d be loveable if we could only get our act together. No more pressing the reset button on or lives every New Year in a quest to finally be that person we thought was worth something.
Because we already are that person…worthy.
You are. I am. Barefoot and empty. Come as you are. Nothing could be more freeing.
And aside from the sheer joy of knowing that worth, there’s a secondary freedom between the lines: we can choose to serve others instead of striving. We don’t have to earn our worth, so we can simply live our lives out of the overflow of our worth. We can lift others up and bring freedom to those who don’t yet see their dignity, beauty, and value. How amazing is that?
So this year I’m still going to write and speak for all I’m worth. I can’t really help it, it’s what I’m made for.
But this year I don’t want my online pursuits to overshadow my offline endeavors. I don’t want to prop up my virtual community at the expense of my flesh and blood friendships. I don’t want to chase facebook influence over motherhood influence. Whether online or off, I want to see souls and stories, not numbers.
I want goals to be tools that stretch me to defy stagnant and comfortable, not measuring sticks of my worth. I want to believe with all my being that the weight of a moment flows not from productivity (or success, or bank account numbers) but from love.
Yes. There it is. I’d rather be known offline for my reflection of God’s love, than online as the girl with a million followers.
And I’d rather simply know and be known by God than chase anything else. Because right there in His arms I find that I really am simply enough…and I can barely breathe that much peace in.
So what do you think it would take to make you worth something? Would you dare to believe that you are already worth more than you believe? When you trade in the thief of not enough for the Giver of worth, you’ll find yourself loved exactly where you are…simply as is.
John 10:9-11 (NIV)
9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.[a] They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
2 Timothy 1:9
He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time,
1 John 3:1
3 See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
You know those moments when everything is going perfectly and then it all falls apart in slow motion? The second before your toddler elbows his milk off the edge of the table. The instant before you say that snarky comment that sets your spouse on defense. The insane laughter just before your boys accidentally head butt each other while playing superheroes.
Yeah….ummm…this particular family time wasn’t one of those moments. Oh it ended in full-on fall-apart chaos, don’t get me wrong. But instead of starting with shiny promise, it was ugly and doomed from the beginning.
I’ve been trying to be more intentional with my kids about real family time. Not just the family moments where we’re all facing the same direction towards the nearest screen, but where we’re all facing each other. You know. Like they did in the old days.
We’re trying to turn a new leaf where I actually make dinner (I know…I’ve shocked even myself), and we all eat together whenever possible. I even bought little conversation cards from the thrift store to get us talking, and I’m trying to focus more on the deeper life conversations, including prayer and talking about God. (Always interesting with a three year old.)
So last night, with the New Year right around the corner, I thought I’d create a cute little family moment where we shared some of our hopes and prayers for 2018 based on this cute little free printable I found from JellyTelly! It was the recipe for a perfect happy moment like this picture:
How easy could it be? What could possibly go wrong?
Oh, how about everything? (I think I need to stop using “cute” and “little” in reference to family moments.)
First, let’s talk timing. I decided to call everyone to the table while my poor husband was trying to pull together a meal for the kids because I was clearly shirking my previous commitment to cooking. So he was only half there, and my kids were hungry. (Note to self: never do anything important when the kids are hungry. I should have picked up on the “Jaws” music looming in the background.)
I asked the big kids to bring a notebook which lead to a disagreement because I didn’t make the three year old bring one because the blessed child can’t write. (By the way, does anyone know how to say “let’s be reasonable?” in 7-year old boy language?)
Then there was the part where I tried to explain in a calm, positive voice why we were sitting down together and what my plan was, which would have gone better if the children were listening and if I’d stayed calm and positive.
When we finally started sharing our hopes and prayers for the New Year, I sighed an internal sigh as my daughter shared that she hoped we all had good birthdays…and Christmas…and Easter…and New Years…and Mother’s Day…etc. OK…so she wasn’t exactly pouring out her soul. But at least she was participating.
My 7 year old apparently had zero hopes or prayers for 2018. Nada. Nothing. Zip. Big dreamer, that one.
My almost 4 year old was more interested in finding all the ways to bang or smash his new toy than in whatever gibberish I wound up saying in my repeated attempts to coral the family into a unified, vision-sharing, team. Someone should have gotten me a megaphone for Christmas.
The family moment finally ended when my husband put the 4 year old in time out and I finally stopped waiting for my middle son to miraculously access his joyful cooperative side.
Epic family fail.
Or was it?
We did learn to sit and share, even if it wasn’t even on the fringes of cute. Good things don’t come easy, and sometimes the fruit of our intentions starts with tiny seeds that we plant in faith.
But as our pastors shared today, we have to be bold, give up our fear, and be focused. Basically…we have to know what we ultimately want, be intentional about pursuing it, and persevere even when chasing that vision gets hard (whether that’s because of an illness, setback, or a child throwing a toy at your head.)
So this new year I’m sure I’m going to fail at something. I’m not going to make a meal every night, and I’m going to lose my temper with the kids despite my best efforts. I’m not going to be perfect and some days I’m not going to see the fruit of my efforts. But I don’t want that to keep me from trying, from planting seeds anyway, and from persevering into what I know God wants me to do.
My theme for this year is simply to persevere in God’s promises.
What are your hopes and prayers for this year? Consider yourself a part of my messy kitchen table discussion and share what you want to be intentional about pursuing this year? Where can you lead yourself or your family deeper into what really matters? What seeds do you want to plant in 2018?
Our town sends out the trash truck weekly, but they only pick up recyclables every other week. By the time week two rolls around, historically we’ve been overflowing with seltzer bottles, milk cartons, empty cereal boxes and more. In fact, we actually called the waste company to upgrade us to a larger recycling bin…but apparently I should have asked them to supersize that.
Needless to say, during recycle week we are on high alert, prepared to deploy our bin at a moment’s notice. Occasionally we forget which pick up week it is, and glance as inconspicuously as possible at our neighbors’ driveways hoping for a clue. When in doubt, we send the bin down anyway; better to let the neighbors know we can’t count than be stuck with overflowing heaps of #4 recyclables.
But a week and a half ago my husband said he was going to take the recycle bin down and I uttered roughly the following fatal words: “Don’t take it down yet; I have a little more to add.”
Did I remember to add more? No. Did I remember that I was supposed to take the recycling down? Yes. Right as the recycling truck passed by my house the next morning. (I can’t think about it too long or I’ll have trauma flashbacks.)
Perhaps I could take my bin across the street at a neighbor’s house? Maybe they’d listen to my pleas for mercy! I could stash a few recycle items in the bins of some good-natured friends! Ooooh! I could drive up the road, cut the recycle truck off with my mini-van and stage a truck heist!
OR…I could be a rational person for once and just wait. Eventually recycling day would come again.
But nearly a month of stashing recyclables has a way of changing “waiting” to “longing”.
So here I am, recycle day dangling a mere three days away, with an overcrowded bin and more besides.
This is a calendar worthy event, rivaling my children’s own birthdays. In fact, I may have to resist the urge to hug the recycling people in my sheer elation at their arrival. If you pass my house on Thursday and catch me twirling my empty bin in the driveway and crying passionately, please know they’re tears of joy and promise me you won’t have me committed.
But I’ve found lately that the recycling truck isn’t the only thing I’m waiting expectantly on. Recently I felt impressed that God was doing something new in my life, but I couldn’t tell you what for sure.
I had some ideas, (don’t we all?) but I wanted the full, detailed, google maps version of my life plan, complete with pictures and alternative routes in case of an unforeseen delay. I figured if I pestered God long enough, He’d give me the complete 411.
It’s been weeks now and in place of piles of recycling I have pages of journal entries contemplating what God is up to. I’ve been praying and wondering and using my master’s degree in overthinking.
And the truth is…I haven’t gotten any burning bushes or writing on the wall. (OK…there’s writing on the wall, but it’s crayon and suspiciously includes all the letters in my three year old’s name.) God hasn’t made plain whatever it is I thought He might be leading me into.
So….maybe God’s just reminding me that He’s always up to something and I should keep my eyes open. Maybe He will give me some more direction in the future.
But no matter what, I think He’s smiling a bit because in all my wondering and journaling and waiting…I’ve been sitting at His feet a little more. I’ve found that the waiting has turned into a renewed longing for God. In all my straining to see what’s ahead, I’ve been humbled to find that there’s no clearer place to view my life than on my knees in prayer.
And even though I’ll probably forever want to stay two steps ahead of God when it comes to my life plan, I’m learning something about what it means to wait on HIM instead of treating Him like a divine GPS. He doesn’t just want me to wait on Him for directions, blessings, or dreams. He wants me to learn to wait WITH Him…eagerly expecting that when I set aside my to-do list to seek Him, He’s there already.
In this season we’re all waiting on something. Maybe it’s the look on your child’s face when they open that gift they never thought you’d get them. Maybe it’s a long anticipated trip to see family for the holidays. Maybe it’s a fresh start in the new year. Perhaps you too are waiting for that recycle truck so you can finally be rid of all your empty amazon boxes!
My prayer for each of us is that those places of temporary expectation cause us to be aware of a deeper anticipation bubbling up in our souls. In all our other waiting, may we learn to desire God Himself and find that what He has to offer us in His presence today (and tomorrow and the next day) is more than enough for us. He is greater than anything else we could hope for or dream about.
And He won’t keep you waiting.
You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water.
I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope. 6 I wait for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.
She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.
Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’
Are you one of those people who keeps their Christmas décor up so long into the New Year that Valentine’s Day starts biting her nails hoping you won’t forget her? Although I take down my Christmas things early in January, a few holiday items always manage to slide under my radar. This past year I had one cute decorative gift from a friend that managed to survive unboxed for a full 12 months!
But I never forget to take down the tree. By January its once live branches are celebrating the New Year with pine green confetti, and the furniture is tired of being displaced.
Because most of us don’t have a perfect, empty, tree-sized space waiting around all year. I don’t tape off a spot on the floor and say, “This is off-limits till Christmas!” Imagine my husband’s irritation if, come January, he moved our chairs back into the ideal football viewing position, and I ran in like a maniac telling him to get his sweet patootie out of the Christmas tree zone.
No. When the tree exits, we begin to fill that empty space with other things. Sometimes we replace it with necessary things, like sofas and end tables. Other times it fills up with the clutter of toys and papers, forgotten laundry and library books.
The space is full again.
So every year when we pack up Thanksgiving and get ready to roll out Christmas what do we do?
We have to make room.
We have to make room for the garland and lights, the snowmen collection and stockings. We replace Harvest browns and burnt orange for December’s crimson, green and gold. And when it comes to that tree, we rearrange furniture, clear the mess that’s accumulated under the couch, and create an empty space. Once again.And it struck me that my living room isn’t the only thing that needs to be cleared this season.
Maybe like me, Advent crept up on you this year disguised as yet another task in your long list of holiday to-dos. I didn’t purchase any festive Advent devotionals over Black Friday, nor did I hang my usual once-a-day Advent envelopes that I sadly end up neglecting well before Christmas arrives.
But I’ve felt the clutter in my schedule and soul in a space that was actually designed for Joy, Peace and Hope.
Jesus is Emmanuel- God WITH us- and He longs to fill that space in our lives. But this season reminds me that He can’t fill out the space of my soul, beautiful and bright, if I’ve let other things gradually take His place. Just like I have to move the clutter and good things alike from my living room to make room for my tree, I need to rearrange my priorities, perspective, and soul space to truly embrace a God who always has more than enough room for me.
But like the glittery tree, the end result of a soul cleared is breathtakingly beautiful.
(Even if it’s gloriously mismatched and tacky like our tree!)
Only in that empty space will I find the presence of God that I’ve so missed in all the ways I’ve been seeking joy and peace elsewhere.
So this Advent season I might not follow the perfect daily reading schedule and I definitely don’t plan on fasting from chocolate or coffee. (There’s always next year…or the next.) But I want to be intentional about my schedule by weeding out a few places where I’m seeking temporary satisfaction over full joy or trying to find meaning in a holiday check list. And my prayer is that instead of treating God like a Holy to-do, I’ll actually make space to just enjoy Him this year.
And thankfully, unlike my Christmas tree, God isn’t seasonal and He’s not likely to shed pine needles any time soon. 😉 So maybe, like the stray lingering Christmas decoration, this season will help me create a little more God space to last the rest of the year.
What about you? If Advent is your thing, how do you plan to celebrate? What tips have you learned to keep your season and soul a little less cluttered? I hope you’ll share!
My Christmas tree is already up which means November is ending…and with it our celebration of adoption here at lesstobemore. But for some of you, maybe it’s just the beginning of a new journey. I hope these past four weeks have given you inspiration, perspective, resources, and courage. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have more questions; I never would have adopted if it hadn’t been for others who acted as guides for me. Or if you connected with the story of one of my friends, they’d love to talk with you as well and I can pass along their information.
Hopefully you feel a little more confident to take that NEXT STEP on your adoption path, big or small. Don’t be discouraged if your steps seem small at first…trust me, they all add up!
And even if you never plan to adopt, I hope this month has opened your mind to what adoption looks like, and will give you tools to have helpful conversations with others about adoption.
In closing, I’m excited leave you with some parting stories from my friends that may infuse you with fresh hope and faith to take with you no matter what your story may be. And if you want a practical next “baby step”, consider checking out one of the links at the end of the post!!
Closing Stories from Friends:
Lisa: (Private US Adoption) God’s hands were definitely all over this adoption, which sadly we really didn’t see until the day we got the call that we were matched. A few weeks before we got the call, [my husband] and I were sitting on the couch and decided to list our Top 5 girls names and Top 5 boys names and see what matched. There were a couple similarities for boys, but both of us had the same Top 2 for girls: Sarah and Grace. So we kind of decided that if we were matched with a girl, we would name her Sarah Grace.
A few weeks later we got the call that a baby was born and the birthmother had chosen us to be the adoptive parents. The birthmother’s name is Sarah. Knowing full-well that we had the right to change the baby’s name to whatever we wanted, she named her Grace. We kept Grace as her first name but changed her middle name…
Terry: (International Adoption- Korea) I have learned that you need to trust yourself and God in this process. Do what is right for you as a couple and not worry about what others think you should/should not do. It is you who is 24/7 with the child. You are who matters.
I learned that even if I had a rough start with placement, I grew to love my daughter wholeheartedly.
Caroline: (Foster to Adopt) I loved being able to surprise friends and family members. We kept her a secret from a lot of people until we actually brought her home so we could walk into the room with a baby in arms. It was a very joyful time!
Becky: (Foster to Adopt) We were very specific about what circumstances we were willing to consider for an adopted child. My husband and I had different feelings on it, but needed to agree to make it doable. So we wanted a perfectly healthy baby. This can be a challenge when many of the babies are exposed to drugs, alcohol and abuse/neglect. When we heard F’s name and description she seemed perfect! To me her name told me she was the one God had chosen for us. I went out that day and bought all 6mth old girl clothes and baby items… on faith alone that she would be ours. When we were told we were chosen it was like we won the lottery for millions of dollars. That phone call and the moment she arrived to our home were 2 incredible memories of joy like no other that I will never forget.
Pamela: (International Adoption- Ethiopia) We began our adoption journey with a prompting from the Lord on our hearts. We knew that if tragedy happened to our family we would want our children to be taken care of properly. Why couldn’t we be that for another family in need? God took a family in Ethiopia and stitched it together with our American family to make a beautiful blended family. They were praying for help and we were praying to be used. At each stage or obstacle God provided a way, lack of money God provided through a grant, language barrier God used our ESL educated daughter, matched with twin boys but God changed that to a brother and sister, stuck in Ethiopia due to incorrect document friends enlisted senator to bring us home, our lack of diversity God brings another African to our family through marriage. God is all knowing and all powerful which makes resting in Him for all the answers so much easier when challenges inevitably occur.
Some Final Links….(to pick up where I left off!)
If you’re looking for a support group that covers multiple adoption issues and offers a place ask more questions, check out this Facebook group:
Can you love adopted and biological children the same?
Maybe it’s a question people are afraid to ask, but the curiosity lingers. It’s human to fear what we’re not certain of… and it’s not really a selfish fear. The last thing we want is to adopt a child only to discover that we can’t give them all the love they deserve.
But as someone who has had children through birth and adoption, I’ve found that love doesn’t know how to be partial and it certainly isn’t weighted more deeply by flesh and blood.
Adoption, like birth, is a path to parenthood and doesn’t dictate our capacity to love. As I go through my normal day, I’m rarely thinking about the fact that my youngest is adopted. When I’m scolding kids for sneaking candy, reading books and chasing kids at the park, or apple picking together… I don’t compartmentalize my kids or have stronger feelings of joy, pride, irritation, or protection over one than another.There are certainly differences between adoptive and biological children: I can’t go hunting for pieces of myself or my husband in our adopted son. (Although honestly, sometimes that’s freeing because he gets to be himself- nobody can try to claim every piece of him!) I also can’t parent him expecting him to be “just like me” or “just like his father”. I may have a learning curve when trying to approach his unique personality and traits since I can’t chalk it up to a hand-me-down traits. Though at the same time, I can’t assume parenting my bio kids is easier just because we have genetic similarities.
All three of my kids have wildly different personalities and annoyingly varied responses to discipline. In fact, recently we’ve gotten professional counseling to help better parent one of our biological kids because even with shared DNA we don’t always have all the tools or wisdom to know what each child needs. I parent each child slightly differently, but my ability to love each is the same.
Here’s what I know about my adopted son:
When he had trouble breathing during bad congestion, my mama heart was ready to take him to the ER, no questions asked.
When he paints pictures at school I’m so happy to make room for them on the fridge.
When he’s sad or left out my heart is sad with him (unless he’s sad because I made him return the tic-tacs he sneaked from my bag.)
When he needs extra help with speech, I gladly advocate for him and find him the support he needs.
When I tuck him in at night and he says “I lud you”, my heart melts all over again every time.
When I look into his little face I’m so grateful that he’s mine, perhaps in a more profound way than even with my biological children. This doesn’t mean I love him more, but that I’m more keenly aware of the unmerited grace that brought him to us.
I’m fiercely protective and proud of him.
I post adorable pictures of him perhaps to an obnoxious degree on social media.
Love isn’t measured by DNA or birth. Love is what pulls us out of bed to feed a baby in the middle of the night when we have no energy at all; love is something we give with no other prerequisite or merit than “you’re mine”; love cooks and cleans and wipes smudges off cheeks and then does it again the next day; love comforts and disciplines and calls someone higher into who they’re meant to be; love isn’t manufactured and it isn’t always a warm fuzzy feeling; but love is what calls you to bring a life into your home even before you ever see their face or feel their heartbeat or know their name.
If fear of being able to love an adopted child is the biggest thing holding you back, I’d suggest you do a quick inventory of all the people you love who aren’t flesh and blood related to you. I imagine your spouse is on that list, and perhaps a few close friends and beyond. I know the love we have for children feels like a whole different category, but our hearts are designed to make room for love beyond logic, beyond biology. I really believe that if you take that step of faith towards adoption you’ll find your heart has no trouble wrapping itself completely around a little life, even if your mind feels a little unsure at first.
If you have your own story of adoption or making room to love, I’d enjoy hearing your story!! Share below in the comments or on my facebook page! And speaking of friend’s stories, below you’ll find a few stories of how parents and siblings of adopted children learned to make room in their homes for a sweet new child:
Sibling Adoption Stories From Friends…
Terry: International Adoption- Korea D was not very happy about giletting a sibling. He liked being an only child. He was 4 ½. We took him to our Agency visits so he would learn about E as we did. He seemed ok with it. His personality was completely different than E’s. We let him know that these are things we did while waiting for him to join our family.
Becky: (Foster-to-Adopt) We always talked about [adoption] as if it were a normal part of life. So when the time came for it the kids had been thinking about it and excited for it for awhile. They had written the new baby notes and bought little gifts in anticipation for the babies arrival. It all happened so fast that my son came off the bus one day and walked into the house and we said … come meet your new baby sister. He felt like he had just won the lottery too!
Pamela: (International Adoption- Ethiopia) Since we already had 5 biological children we asked the eldest their opinion on adopting first. At Christmas we made the announcement to the rest of the children. We were careful to not upset birth order. In the first couple years of bringing 2 new children into the home we worked very hard to give the 2 kids closest in age more attention since it was big adjustment.
Carrye: (Foster-to-Adopt) Yes, I’m sneaking one last thought in here: When we were preparing to bring our son home, we prayed almost nightly with our kids for a new baby. Even as we were learning to wait on God, our kids were learning a similar lesson. Since our son was an emergency placement and we brought him home so quickly, the end result was a whirlwind for us and our kids. Our daughter cried at first because she “wanted a sister!” but quickly came to love her new brother. A beautiful side-effect of bringing our children into our adoption story is that now it’s part of their “normal”. When my daughter talks about having kids, she always mentions that she plans to adopt too.
Parting Thought: I don’t want to gloss over the ache of infertility or the deep fear that adopting a child might feel like a “less perfect” way to grow a family. If that is your story, my heart breaks for you and the last thing I want to do is invalidate you or your very real struggle. If you’re wrestling over guilt in choosing adoption after infertility, I’d refer you to this post titled “Second Best or Second Choice?” and hope it encourages you.
“You know your Mom’s not your real mom,” he quipped casually.
My heart nearly tripped as the words rounded the corner from the room where my older kids were playing with a friend.
“You’re adopted,” he continued. “Your mom’s not your real mom.”
“We’re not adopted,” my daughter countered, “just our brother.”
I cried from outside the door. I couldn’t speak in the moment, but deep inside I planned out a whole Mama bear list of things to talk to my big kids about later. I was grateful the comment had no power to threaten their identity, but equally panicked over the reality that those same words might knock my then peanut-of-a-boy over one day.
We’ve always been honest with him about his story precisely so he can own his beginnings and identity. It’s part of who he is, the messy and the miracle, the painful and the prayed-for. He is just starting to understand that his story is different from his big siblings. Most recently he’s started understanding that babies grow inside their Mommies. He got upset one day when I was telling him about the mom he grew inside of, insisting he’d grown in me instead. Even though I don’t want him to hurt, I also don’t want to cover the hard parts of his story to protect him, because it will just delay the wound.
But I want him to know at the same time that he is absolutely ours and fiercely loved. And I wanted my big kids to know to know the same: that I was just as much their brother’s mom as theirs. No doubt ever. After their friend left, I told them they should stand up for their brother if they ever heard kids say something like that. Ever. It was an important reminder to them and to me to be prepared.
Yet my heart ached over the million imaginary ways my little son might feel out of place, hurt, or unloved because someone else didn’t understand his story.
Still, their friend’s tone had been matter-of-fact, not malicious. He wasn’t taunting; I believe he was just processing in his own child-like way something that was foreign to him. So though I was broken by the conversation, I was also thankful to my friend for even trying to explain adoption to her son. It’s not easy.
What a bizarre cocktail of emotions erupted from one moment. Welcome to the world of adoption.
People always seem to have something to say, don’t they? Even under everyday scenarios, someone will be there to tell you to put another layer of clothes on your kid or ask you why you haven’t started your baby on solid foods yet. Maybe as humans we can’t help ourselves.
But whenever your story is a little bit off the beaten path, people tend to say things that range from comical to extremely hurtful because they just don’t know enough about your story. Certainly there are some who are just hurtful- who don’t want to even listen. But I believe most people don’t intend to hurt- they just haven’t had enough experience with adoption so it’s like a foreign language to them, and they need to learn a few common phrases to help them on their journey.
Once a friend of mine was going through a hard situation that I’d never experienced. I ended up looking up stories and comments from people online who had similar circumstances. I was so grateful because I’m sure I would have said something absolutely hurtful without meaning to if I hadn’t tried to understand.
And today if YOU are reading this post as we head into Thanksgiving, you’re taking a step towards understanding adoption and I’m so thankful for you. WE’RE thankful for you, because my friends have some of their own hard and hurtful stories as well. I hope you’ll listen and learn a little bit about what it’s like to adopt and some simple well-meaning phrases that don’t come across the way you might think. Some stories are painful to hear, but in sharing maybe we find healing.
Yes adoption is a many-layered wonder of loss and love. Not all stories are easy or simple to share. But I’m hoping that as we bring it into the open and talk more, our adopted children will grow up being confident of who they are, without fear that their story is wrong because it’s different.
(Maybe we’re doing OK because our kid so far has no shortage of confidence in being himself.)
Friends Share Their Adoption Stories…
*What people said to them that made them uncomfortable, and how they talk about adoption with their own kids.*
Pamela: (International Adoption- Ethiopia) People often talk romantically about adoption and how “lucky” our kids are to be in our family. I am always uncomfortable with that talk because it seems to gloss over all the loss the children have experienced in their short lives.
Also, I get annoyed when people think that threats of punishment or consequences will be effective on kids from trauma… they have lost their culture, language, birth family, and anything familiar; what could you take from them that is more valuable than those? My children are much more motivated by knowing you love and care about them as a person.
Since our children were older and of different race it is obvious that were adopted. I have always been comfortable telling their adoption story. I believe that when I keep silent the children might get the idea I am ashamed or uncomfortable with their life story. I even spoke to their school about adoption in 2nd grade so their friends could learn their story. Our children did nothing wrong to deserve their difficult start and I want then to hear that message over and over.
Terry: (International Adoption- Korea) A Hispanic woman made Chinese eyes asking if daddy was Chinese, Other questions, “is he black”, “what is he”, and he has “horse hair”; “chinky chinky chinaman- go back to where you came from” from 5th graders to my Kindergartener on the bus to/from school. Also great was my mom asking for me to give him back so I could get a white one…… lovely.
We celebrate anniversaries – no gifts.. We would show the movie “here comes D” or “E’s arrival” which led to their stories. Dad and I got married and started [a family]…Because we wanted children to fill out our family, we brought you into the family. You joined us on this day, so it’s your anniversary of becoming part of [our] family! The kids, especially E, really enjoyed their videos. They heard pet names used by the adoption staff and could see who was there not only when at the airport, but later at our home.
Caroline: (Foster-to-Adopt)When I first brought her home somebody asked me, “Where did you get that?” …uh… I’m going to chalk it up to social awkwardness?
I do really appreciate when parents are willing to take the time to explain adoption to their children. My cousins got a book about adoption from the library and read it with their children, and it really helped them to understand that our daughter belonged to our family.
I plan to be open and honest about it [her adoption story], and always allow her to ask questions and talk about it. We will show her pictures and tell her about her birth mom and about how we met her and brought her home, and about her adoption day. We will read books to her that explain adoption at an age-appropriate level.
Lisa: (Private US Adoption) I think for some people it has been hard for them to understand having a semi open relationship with the birth mother. They see it as once you adopt that’s it so why are we having any relations with the birth mother. This has been hard to explain and for them to understand.
Becky: (Foster-to-Adopt) “Why would anyone want to give her up.” This is not true, her mom wanted her very badly but was very sick with addiction and could not provide the care she needed.
I haven’t shared much yet because she is still very little. I do have a shadow box of her outfit she came to us in and some cards sent. I will be open and honest and tell her what is appropriate when she asks.
Reading back through a journal can be an abrasive revelation of the state of your heart.
In July of 2013 we’d completed all the tedious Dadoption paperwork, the thorough twelve evening fostering classes, background check and more. The day we were licensed was like a giant breath in with no thought of exhaling. Possibility was all I saw on the rosy horizon and my heart swelled with such noble prayers as this one:
July 16, 2013 “I pray that it [adoption] would be your will…that it would be a situation that accomplishes far more than just bringing a life or lives into our family…that you would accomplish justice through this adoption. And while I pray it happens soon, I trust your timing…”
Except I was still holding my breath, in case He hadn’t noticed. I didn’t really trust His timing; I trusted mine. I’d put in all the “hard work” and faith of preparing for adoption, and I thought God’s job was to now wave His wand and give me a baby. Now-ish. The waiting wasn’t part of my plan, and my excitement wore thin. Less than a month later, my enthusiasm gave way to cautious vulnerability:
August 4th, 2013
“…as I try to process waiting an unknown amount of time for an unknown child in an unknown situation I begin to think of pregnancy as the obviously easier option to increasing our family. Except it’s not an option…it is very hard- I keep seeing babies everywhere and my heart is so ready for another baby.”
My heart hadn’t changed, I was simply becoming more honest.
When you adopt through the foster care system, you get to choose ahead of time what characteristics of a child you are open to or medical issues you feel capable of dealing with. Are you open to a child of any race? What age range are you hoping for? Could you take in a child who has had sexual abuse, drug or alcohol exposure during pregnancy, a family history of mental illness? If the child is older, what behavioral issues are you comfortable handling?
We were open to a child (or very young sibling set) under three of any race with possible drug or alcohol exposure and minor medical issues, but we didn’t feel we could handle a severe medical issue. Still, we were counseled to draw our lines of preference a little wider than our comfort zone to stay as open as possible to a match.
Once licensed, you receive calls or emails about children who need homes as they come into care. As hard as it is to etch your preference in ink, it’s horrifying to have to say no to a little person with nothing theoretical about him. We had to say no to several children for a variety of reasons, but we believed it was better to know our limitations with two small children already in our home than to say yes out of guilt.
Yet as hard as it was to say no to a child, it felt just as hard to not be chosen for a child.
Even if you agree to take a child that comes into care, you still don’t know if you’ll be placed with that child. There are many other families in the state waiting as well, and every family that says “yes” to a child gets sorted through to determine the best placement for the child. If you’re among the final few families chosen, you’re part of the “teaming” process where social workers go through each detailed family profile to match the child with a family.
If you’re chosen, you still have an opportunity to decide that you can’t take the child after hearing their full story and history and sometimes meeting the child. After being chosen and officially agreeing to take the child, you begin the foster to adopt process.
I kept a notebook of all the children we said “yes” to. Little did I know we would agree to twenty-six children before actually being placed with a child. My prayers shifted again:
October 12, 2013 “I’m disappointed. I felt like we prayed with sincere and earnest hearts. I feel like we are being obedient to a calling. So it hurts when God does not seem to be answering our prayers.
January 14, 2014
“I don’t doubt God’s ability- I begin to doubt His willingness to help- that I’ve got to do more- be better- pray another “dumb” prayer cycle with other people- that God isn’t going to answer till I’ve done all that…
Was God unable to help me, or was He unwilling or…was it me?
I had trouble relaxing into God’s plan, into His purpose. If I could convince myself that it all still depended on me, then I could be in control again. Waiting was like a heavy weight pressing so hard on me that my fear, need for control and doubts were pressed out into the open.
Waiting comes in shades, you know. Sometimes we wait on what we know will inevitably come, like a holiday or the end of school. That waiting is bright and clear, illuminated by checked off calendar boxes and heralded by changing seasons. A wait to be placed with a child is the color charcoal, thick with fog. It’s the pain of unmet expectation amplified by uncertainty.
Waiting brought me to a point of honesty with God, of learning somehow to trust who He is outside of what my circumstances were. Looking back I know I needed that time of being stretched by waiting on God, but it didn’t see it in the middle. In fact, just days before we were placed, when our miracle was ripening, I pleaded with God yet again:
February 4, 2014 “God I’m losing hope. Nothing has landed yet…I know you are God- that you can do whatever you want- I know that none can know your ways or seek out your thoughts. Yet I stand here, begging you to give us another child. I don’t want to feel like giving up- don’t want to keep waiting with no promise- no hope and no answers- no action. I feel helpless and hopeless and I’m becoming despondent. Please fill me and hear me.”
Less than a week after that prayer my social worker called and asked me if I was sitting down. He told me we’d been chosen for a little newborn boy- an emergency placement child that needed to be taken home straight from the hospital…today. I frantically called my husband, crying, and told our two young children that they were getting a new brother. (Surprise!)
I’d have prepared a bit more if I’d known- maybe washed my hair at least. I’d have remembered to bring a camera, that’s for sure. And yet I would have missed out on a different kind of miracle from within the waiting.
The wait gave way to a whirlwind of formula, doctor visits and social workers. I’ll share more about the post-placement story later, but know this about adoption: If you feel overwhelmed by the uncertainty, you’re not alone. Maybe you’ve been praying longer, wrestling harder, and still don’t have your answer. Or maybe you’re like some friends I know whose joy was granted then put on hold again…indefinitely. I don’t want to pretend that every adoption story ends in cute blue booties or perfect pink ribbons.
The pain of waiting is that you don’t know what’s on the other end or when you’ll be able to exhale again. But I also believe that if you’re willing, you will learn something in the waiting that you could never experience in only chasing what you know you can achieve or create on your own.
I pray that God will sustain you through whatever your wait is, and teach you more about Himself and your own heart through the weight of the wait.
OTHER STORIES OF WAIT AND OBSTACLES…
Terry: (International Adoption- Korea)- Part of the home study is a full discloser on each parent. Writing is not hubby’s specialty, so we devised an alternative method- we videotaped the Q&A.
[Obstacle of waiting:] identifying why another child was brought over when mine was “next” and all papers were completed x2!!
A big situation developed when we pursued the second adoption. I had wanted a large family, adoption costs were high so hubby said no more after second one. I tried to adopt a sibling group or multiple birth baby from Korea. You pay once for USA fees and 2x Korean fees. I received a call after about 18 months of waiting. Not going to happen, would I accept a single child? I was about to turn 35 in January so said yes, a girl. It broke my heart as I did not believe 2 kids made a large family. We received a call in Feb that a baby was available, only was positive for Hep B. I only had 3 restrictions, “no Hep B, HIV or inoperable physical defects” . This baby was Hep B pos. I called a dear friend, MD who used to work in Korea for years. She advised me to pass on this baby, as child would have issues being placed in daycare (remember this is early 1990). It killed me to pass this baby on but we did. 3 days later, we received another call for a baby. This was E. I had problems connecting with her. I was so angry that she wasn’t 2+babies. She was quite demanding of physical attention (at 24 still is, lol) so much so I had to quit teaching Lamaze classes out of my home. It probably took me about 6 months to finally accept the finality of our family and fully connect with her. She is not the worse for wear. FYI – D was never a clingy baby. He preferred to sit near, not on our laps.
God taught me to trust Him through this process. He showed me that He knows more than I do about what I need or can handle. E kept us busy as if we had a houseful!
Caroline: (foster-to-adopt)The process of getting calls was really intense and emotionally difficult. Sometimes we had to say no to children because we knew it wasn’t the right fit for our family, but it was very difficult to say no to a child in need of a home. Saying yes was also scary and exciting.
It was also very difficult as we fostered our daughter to accept the possibility that we could lose her if there were biological family members capable of caring for her. Living in uncertainty is very challenging.
Another challenging aspect of adopting through foster care is acknowledging the loss involved. We felt compassion for our baby’s birth mother who had to suffer through losing a child. We wanted to fully enjoy and appreciate our baby while also carrying the weight of the brokenness in the situation.
Lisa: (Private US Adoption)Honestly we were lucky and didn’t have any major obstacles. We had minor obstacles such as the wait time felt like an eternity. Our adoption agency, American Adoptions, was really good at keeping us informed and staying in touch with us through the process…it can be a long process. [A]t times you will feel all you are doing is paperwork and paperwork that tells all the small details about your life. The waiting can be hard and seem like it can take forever but in the long run the wait is totally worth it.
Pamela: (International Adoption- Ethiopia) We struggled with waiting almost a year to be match to a sibling group. Our first match was with twin boys who were said to have a deceased father but this was discovered not to be true. After that we were shortly later matched to a sibling group of a boy and girl whose mother was supposed to be deceased. That adoption went through and we brought them into our family only to learn that both their birth parents are alive. We also had to advocate for adjusting school work and emotional support since our children were only labeled a ELL students. I initially homeschooled and then pushed in the classroom to help facilitate all the necessary adjustments. We also struggled with helping a child deal with sexual abuse trauma.
Becky: (Foster-to-Adopt) My husband was very against a 3rd child and adoption, for the fear of the unknown. I kept praying about it and trusting God had a plan and would change his heart. If one of you in a relationship feels that way I encourage you to not give up. My life and my husband’s life is forever blessed for the gift of our daughter. I thank God everyday that he made her miraculously come into our family and complete it.