Jesus Saves? (From Ersatz to Emmanuel)

I recently read someone’s belief that if God did nothing other than save us from hell, we’d have nothing to complain about.

The argument is that even if our lives were left an absolute mess, how could we complain to the Jesus who created us and saves us from eternal condemnation?

It’s not that I disagree.  I get the argument that if God is God (and we aren’t) then by definition anything He gives us is grace.

But a save us and leave us God would be hard to follow.  (If you’re freaking out about the theologically suspect state of my soul, let me explain.)

The whole statement just made me wonder what people think about my Jesus.  With Easter right around the corner, what do people think it means that Jesus saves us?

How many times have you seen a billboard or church sign with “Jesus Saves!” on it?  And how many times has that sign prompted you to deep gratitude or action or even a Hallelujah? (If you’re a hallelujah person, rock on, friend.  It’s just not my M.O.)

I promise I’m not boycotting Jesus Saves signs…but maybe for you, like me, “Jesus saves” gets filtered out with the rest of the background noise of life.  I’ve seen it a million times.  I’ve heard it my whole life.  As a kid I even laughed over that cheesy joke about when the power goes out suddenly but Jesus doesn’t lose any of His computer files because- you guessed it- Jesus saves.

But what exactly does that phrase mean?  I’m all for avoiding eternal misery, but if being saved from hell were the only thing that made Jesus appealing to me…I’ve got to be honest, He’d be more of an insurance policy than a savior.  Still good…still sovereign…but so different from what I know of Him.

Is Jesus just some symbol of hope to ease my fear of death?  Is He just a plastic placeholder to get me through the junk of this world?  Is He a cheesy salesman trying to sell me on a boring life I’m going to regret later?

Sometimes there’s so much veneer over our idea of Jesus that he seems either too holy to understand or too contrived and cheesy to be real.  So let’s just come right out and ask it: Who is this guy people make such a big deal over and what exactly is he saving us from?

If I were to ask you right now what you thought about Jesus, what would come to your mind?

Would you think of stained glass and Latin, something a little too distant or holy for the regular guy?

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Would you scoff as you pictured Jesus in the white robe and blue sash (apparently his fashion of choice) of children’s bibles- would he feel to you like just another childhood myth?

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Would you think of words like sin and redemption and righteousness…words that sound weighty but don’t quite connect with the bread and butter of your world?

Before you can think about Jesus as redeemer or rescuer or radical or …you have to know Him as relevant.  Relevant to you.  Relevant to your life.  Relevant beyond heaven and hell.

Does Jesus fit into now?  If we’re just holding on, eyes clenched shut, till an afterlife when everything is OK…then God isn’t relevant till later.

I’m not here to diminish what Jesus did on the cross; in fact, I think what He accomplished is far more significant than we even imagine.

Because the cross to me is no longer a mere symbol of heaven and a happy escape post mortem.  And this may sound sacrilegious, but “Jesus saves” is not the phrase that keeps me from ditching church and God and everything with it.

I’m pretty stuck on the phrase “Jesus with” because it tells the why behind Jesus saves.

God created us to be with Him.  Jesus came wearing our flesh not to infiltrate and spy on his creation or to judge us…but to be with us.  And He died for us to be with us in a way we never could be otherwise.  It was never out of obligation or charity alone- God wants us.  And he doesn’t just want us later- to gather us up in heaven and take a giant awkward family picture on the streets of gold.  He wants us now.

The reason I hold onto Jesus and love Him even is because one day He stopped being an idea or a slogan and I felt Him like He was right in the room with me…closer even.  I’ve sensed Him even in the moments when my fear is so suffocating I don’t think I’ll make it through.  I’ve felt Him in the rush of wind and waves and the stillness of dew peppered grass at dawn.  He’s with me with in my children’s laughter and in the daily finger pricks of my diabetes, in the dish washing and the writing.  Nobody else can quite enter all my moments like He does.

When I’m not focusing on Him for awhile I end up chasing myself and what feels right to me and I end up angry, irritable and unsatisfied.  But when I actually acknowledge Him…for real…and do what He says…there’s freedom and peace that shouldn’t make sense.  That’s what “God with” does.

He’s not my band-aid.  Trust me.  There are so many times I just wish I could wear Him to feel better in the moment, but He’s not some genie that I snap my fingers at to fix every problem in my life.  And sometimes I kind of hate that I can’t just ask for what I want and get it because He’s Jesus after all.

But deep down, I know that “with” is better than fixed.  Because no matter what changes in this life…I have with.  Emmanuel (God WITH us): that’s His name and also one of the most powerful theological statements I know.   And yes, I believe His with will follow me even in death, but it means He’s also right here, right now, no waiting required.

Jesus saves? Yeah. I believe that.  But He doesn’t just save me from sin, from death, from hell even.  He saves me from emptiness, self-destruction, purposelessness, and loneliness of soul.

“Jesus saves” speaks to his power and position.  (No…I don’t care to argue with that.)

But “Jesus with” speaks to my identity in Him. (And I find it’s even harder to argue with His heart.)


What about you?  Have you always wondered how church signs and billboards might relate to your life?  What is your picture of Jesus?  Whatever your honest thoughts, I’d love to hear!  So don’t be afraid to add to the conversation…

 

 

A Letter to Men in the Church: How You Can Affirm Our Worth

Dear men in the church,

Some of you may be aware that there’s a teensy little debate over the role of women in the church.  Should women be elders? Should they be allowed to teach? Can they be involved in leadership?  To what extent?

And I wish it was as simple as one person’s opinion verses another person’s, but I realize everyone is trying to justify their answer with the Bible.  Because in truth, I’d like to believe most of us in this debate care an awful lot about what God has to say.

So guess what?  I’m not going to sit here today and re-debate the same old same old.  (Not that I mind a good two way conversation.)  I’m not going to start a protest outside your church’s men’s breakfast gathering, or challenge you to a public scripture boxing match.

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But I am going to ask you to listen to my story.

Recently I saw a John Piper tweet about women teaching men in seminary, followed by a hailstorm of comments from dissenters and allies alike.  And as I processed the comments and the emotions that arose, I had a moment of clarity as to part of why the debate is so hard for me:

It makes me feel like I’m not enough. And it always has.

I grew up as a pastor’s kid, compliant and rule-following, with the exception of whatever rebel stories my mom has on me.  And by a young age, I soaked up the belief that men were the head of the house and of the church and I saw the verses that seemed to back that up.  From what I gathered, that meant that there were clear and present limitations on what women could do in the church. (Again, not getting into debate here.)

But I realize, despite my fairly balanced religious upbringing, that all these Bible verses were making me nervous.  See, I had a growing suspicion that I wasn’t as good as a man…that God maybe saw me as less.   In fact, as I read the Bible, I worried that I had two strikes against me in God’s eyes: I wasn’t Jewish (the race that God chose to reveal Himself through) and I was born a female.

Not much I could do about that.

I remember asking my dad once for all the verses on women in the Bible and asking him what God really thinks about us females.  I needed to know then, and now, that God’s love and value over me wasn’t tied into my sin, my talents, or my gender.  And he graciously supplied me with not one or two verses, but many, covering women from Old Testament to New.  And he helped me to see the value of women in the Bible as a whole.

Anyway, as the debate rages, I see the way many people quickly end a discussion about women in the church by pointing to a verse and saying, “Well, that’s what God says.  End of story.”

And like I said, it’s not that using the Bible to back up your belief is wrong. (I think it’s actually important.)  But please be aware that in debating certain passages, we may be overlooking some very black and white verses that share exactly what God DOES think about women.

And in the intensity of the debate, in the angry back and forth, I think you may not realize the unintended message that some women are internalizing: that we are not worth as much in God’s eyes.

I’m not sitting here asking you to give us dignity.

To borrow from John Perkins, God has given each one of us dignity, and we can’t give it to someone else we can only affirm or deny that God-given dignity.

I’m simply asking that even if you never see women’s roles in the church differently, that you would acknowledge and affirm the God-given worth of women through your words and actions. 

Because the Bible also has a lot to say about our worth.

Both men and women were made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27).

God promised to pour out His Spirit on both men and women (Joel 2:29).

We are co-heirs of life with men (1Peter 3:7) and as children of God we’re co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17).

Before God we’re not more or less than men, but one in Christ (Galations 3:28).

Further, Jesus valued women, taught them, encouraged them and called them friends.  I never saw Jesus diminish or devalue a woman.

Whatever our roles, our value and ability to be used in God’s plan is undiminished by gender.

What does all this have to do with you?  I’m simply saying this: it’s still a process for me to fully allow the truth of God’s love and worth to seep in between every crack of who I am, regardless of my gender, race, qualifications or role.

Maybe as a man you’ve never wondered if God sees you as any less than a woman.  And maybe you’ve never thought that a woman was less valuable before God.

All I’m asking is that you acknowledge that.

All I’m asking is that when you look your wife in the eyes, you affirm her dignity, worth, and God-given gifts.  I’m asking that you consider what it means that God sees you both as equals.

All I’m asking is that when you teach your little girl about what God says about women in the Bible, that you make sure you start by teaching her that God loves her, LIKES her even, just as she is.  That she’s not “second-best” or “second-choice”.

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I challenge you to teach your daughter that God made her with a plan in mind, and whatever her role or future, it’s no less important than your son’s.

All I’m asking is that when you interact with that woman who serves alongside you in your church that you see her as an integral part of what God is doing in His Kingdom.

And if you find yourself in a sharp disagreement with someone, man or woman, please remember they equally bear the image of your Creator.

And to all the men I know in my church and beyond who have encouraged, mentored, challenged, affirmed me and even disagreed with me in love…thank you.  Because YOU are part of why I’m growing to see myself as God truly sees me.  And I hope to turn around and do that for others.

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Sincerely,

Carrye

 

 

 

Stop Photoshopping Your Personality

Four+ days in a cabin with 10 adults and 7 children has taught me many things: don’t put your cup of water down without marking it as yours; be cautious of trying to use the bathroom during a game of hide-and-seek; and if you play your cards right, you can avoid doing any dishes without anyone realizing.

But mostly I’ve learned something about personalities.

My four siblings and I discussed our lives over an unprecedented lunch by ourselves (read 0 of our 7 children were present…whhhhaat?).   We talked about growing up and the ramifications of our parents gradually throwing assorted rules and limitations overboard (to keep their sanity afloat, I assume).  I insisted on singing along to “Wagon Wheel”, on my short list of acceptable country songs.  (I know.  I clearly don’t belong in the south.)  We wondered collectively, for the love of squirrels, why our restaurant table needed a giant tv screen, and my brother coached me on his theology of tipping.

We also talked about our differences.   Apparently we differ in how we communicate, where we draw our moral lines, how we raise our children, and how we choose to caffeinate.  Between us, we have hundreds of variations in perspective, process, and personality.

Personality differences sound so beautiful in theory, because on paper our combined uniqueness is supposed to add color and dimension to the world around us.  You’ve heard what they say: We’re better together; we need each other; there’s beauty in diversity!

Pullllease.  Try telling me all that rainbow, sunshine mumbo jumbo after throwing a bunch of different personalities into a cabin for a few days and shaking them up.

The obnoxiously loud kid up at the crack of dawn is clearly no good for his sleep-loving mom or the poor guy on the couch by the kitchen.  The one whose idea of adventure is an obscure coffee shop or thrift store mixes like oil and water with the other who’d rather be kayaking.  The worriers and people pleasers clash with the self-confident and matter-of-fact.  Oh it was a wonderful vacation…but I’m just saying…our uniqueness didn’t always look a whole lot like a painting by Picasso.

And I re-realized this week (no, I’m not stuttering…I just relearn things a lot), that I’m constantly wanting to photoshop my personality.  Maybe nip and tuck my random anxieties or give my emotions the equivalent of a nose-job.  At least I’d prefer to soften the edges of my personality so I could blend in with the person nearest me and be really liked by everyone 24/7.

But my personality isn’t the kind that hides my emotions well, so one fateful evening smack in the middle of the chaos of bedtime, I leaked a little personality all over the family dinner table.

My dad had brought an ample supply of old family pictures to peruse together while we reminisced about the memories they evoked.  He began sorting pictures in preparation, and the family members who didn’t have to put kids to bed yet were sitting around the table laughing over a few loose photos.

Not pictured: My Mom who is the picture-taking personality.

I wanted to be totally cool with that arrangement. I wanted to be Miss Go-with-the-flow.  I wanted to not care at all that they seemed to be starting without me.  Pff…I wanted to act like I totally didn’t mind if I was missing the beginning of an epic, monumental, family activity enterprise that was three years in the making.  I wanted to not be the person who used dramatic words like “monumental” and “enterprise” to describe a simple family moment.

But I am that person.

So I flipped out a little on everyone and told them to wait because -hello!- some of us are trying to adult here and get the kids to bed.  And my temperature was probably elevated and I was making zero eye contact with anyone and exited my melodramatic stage feeling just as angry at myself as at anyone else.

Why did I care so much? Why wasn’t I born with the emotional evenness of a manatee?

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Why did I have a hyper-active sense of being left out?  And why couldn’t I just keep it together so everyone at least thought that I was the amazing personality chameleon that conveniently matched the color and mood of those in the room at any given moment?

The problem is, I wanted to take all the parts of my personality that test well in public and divorce them from the equally “me” parts that are a little less presentable.  Keep my outgoing nature and my love of new people; keep my creativity and my whimsy; keep the crazy big dreams and quirky fashion.  But for God’s sake leave out my neediness and irrationality; my emotional highs and lows; my tendency to not always follow through on crazy dreams; and the insecurities that lie under the surface.

But it’s just not possible to itemize my personality and extract the unwanted.  Each of us is a mixed bag, and the parts of us that seem easy to love wouldn’t exist without the parts of us that don’t seem quite normal or easy.

But there’s power and freedom in owning who we are…all of it.  

It’s not that we don’t have room to grow, or places to improve.  Accepting our personality isn’t the same as making excuses for poor choices or hurtful actions.

But if I hadn’t been trying so hard to stifle who I was, ironically my freak out moment over a pile of family pictures would have looked more like a calm dialogue than a panicked outburst.  If I had accepted who I was, I would have given others the chance to accept me too…and to make room for my personality just as I make room for theirs.

Owning who we are and letting others see our true selves is so brave.  It means others are going to be irritated by us sometimes.  It means we’re not always going to mesh with everyone all the time.  It means we won’t make everyone happy.

Well that’s a relief…because frankly, no one else makes me perfectly happy either.  Seriously.  If we’re all so different, obviously we’re going to get on each other’s nerves sometimes.  We can spend our lives trying to photoshop ourselves so people like us more, but it’s exhausting and it’s really just not working.  In fact, it’s making things worse.

We really do compliment each other but not always in the ways we’d think.  Our differences stretch and grow and balance and teach us how love truly covers over it all.  And our collaboration of personalities might be messy at times, but there’s a lot more beauty in our authenticity than in pretense.

So whether you’re an introvert or extrovert, emotional or level, irrational or practical, dreamer or planner, coffee lover or hater, assertive or compliant…you simply are you.

You DO add color to the canvas that is the world.  And yes, your personality might also leak all over someone’s kitchen table one day in a not so pretty way.  And that’s really OK.

So I dare us both to start living like it’s OK.  (Because it sounds like a lot more fun.)

 

 

 

 

Putting Our Needs in the Mailbox

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?

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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.

 

 

 

The Thief Called “Not Enough”

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.)

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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.

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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.

 

Romans 5:8

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.


Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

 

 

New Year Family Time Fail

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?

 

Prepare Him Room: What my Christmas Tree Taught Me

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!

Is Love Biased? (On loving adopted & bio kids- PLUS!-how siblings reacted to adoption)

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.

The Weight of the Wait (and Other Adoption Struggles)

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.

pixabay.com

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.  

 

 

 

Missing My Son’s Mom: An Adoption Confession

Psst…for those who are new, it’s a November Adoption Celebration Month on my blog!  Have you ever wondered or worried if you’d be able to handle a relationship with an adopted child’s birth parent?  Find courage in reading my personal story and the perspective of my friends at the end of the post!  Thanks for stopping in! 


It’s irrational to expect to meet an intimate stranger at a retail store- but welcome to my irrational imagination. I scanned the Babies “R” Us for any sign of what I believed her face must look like. Why on earth would she be here of all places? You don’t have to convince me I’m crazy. I’ve never actually met her. To be honest, I don’t even have a picture and I don’t know where she lives. But I know her name. And I know I see pieces of her in my now three year old son…because the woman I’m looking for gave birth to him.

Photo Credit: Mysticsartdesign (pixabay.com)

We have friends for whom the decision to adopt seemed quick and calculated. Our desire was always there, but we meandered and poked and investigated quite a bit before deciding to pursue a child through the foster care system. By the time we jumped in we had two young biological children, but my heart longed for another baby. After six months of licensing and home study, and seven months of waiting (a story for another time) we got a miracle phone call and our lives swelled to make room for a three day old infant with no name.

My husband found metered parking by a snow bank near the hospital in the dead of winter, me with grungy hair and a gloriously bewildered heart. We met some social workers in the lobby, then down a hall, up an elevator, wrong floor, elevator down, and stopped. That final antiseptic clean hallway we conquered is still etched in my memory. There was a small conference style room at the end on the right where we were told to wait. Wait. Wait for a little boy with a total of zero shared DNA that we’d only known about for 72 hrs.

The door opened, and they wheeled in a tiny baby with a nose that melted my heart (I’m so serious) in a slightly oversized Christmas outfit, even though the holiday was well over. Now what? With my biological children, people asked in the hospital if they could hold my baby. But this was foreign territory; a baby not from my own body. I found myself asking someone else permission to pick up that precious almost-mine child. Seven something pounds doesn’t do true justice to the weight of the miracle I held in my hands that day.

Our first family picture the night we brought our foster (soon to be adopted!) son home.

As beautiful as that hospital moment was and remains to me, it owns an untold sadness as well. Though we often want to view adoption through the celebratory lens of love that grafts a new limb on a family tree, it’s not natural for a limb to need a new tree in the first place. As I heard at an adoption group early on, no adoption story comes about without loss first. That hospital may be last place my son ever encounters his biological mom, the one who brought him into this world and carries a family history I know so little about. I had no idea how painful it would be to own just tiny scraps of the story that rightfully belongs to my son.

Initially we had some limited contact with our son’s biological brothers, and though we haven’t had the chance to see them lately, I’m beyond grateful for those moments. They’ve each been able to hold him as a baby, and one brother even passed our baby’s picture along to his biological mom. Briefly we thought a window might be opening up to meet her, but she never reached back out. I don’t judge her for it; her life is full of it’s own grief and loss, that I’ll never be able to know or erase.

Why was I so afraid of contact with the birthparents when we first started our adoption journey? In my insecurity, I couldn’t imagine trying to maintain a relationship with a woman who, in my mind, had a stronger claim to my child than I did. How agonizing might that be? But by the time we were waiting for a child, I knew in my heart that I would make room for that possibility because it would be in my child’s best interest. We would adopt not just this child, but his story as well.

I never dreamed of the pain on the other side of the coin. I never conceieved we simply wouldn’t know his mom or dad at all. In all my rosy adoption dreams, not one included me frantically searching the internet, or the aisles of a random Babies “R” Us, for a strange, precious face. I’ve dreamed of his mom and long to be able to look into her face and see my son’s eyes, or cheeks, or (bless me) his nose. I can only offer him his resemblance to his biological brothers as we have their pictures and I share them when I tell him his birth story. This is his thread-bare history-the bits and pieces of his pre-story melted into the story of how he filled our lives with joy. But I long to give him more.

Oh I know there’d be a distinct pain in the knowing, in the seeing. Maybe it would be much harder than I imagine, trying to let my son grow up knowing two moms. Would he face a more personal rejection? Would he struggle to make his two worlds fit together? I can’t speak into that because it’s not our story. But for those who have always thought like I did that it would be better not to muddle through an open adoption, communicating with your child’s biological parents, I can only say there’s a deep loss to not knowing them as well.

When we send our children off to school for the first time or to camp perhaps, we often feel we’re somehow missing a piece of who they are by not being with them. We eagerly anticipate asking them how their day was, who they played with, if anything bad happened, so we can fill in the gaps we missed. Because our child’s story is part of our story and we want to own all of it. The same is true of my adopted child: somehow I feel I’ve missed a piece of who he is by not being there to access and know the roots of his life that are invisibly intertwined with mine. There are questions I can’t ask or answer: Where did he get his whimsy and love for dance? Is his extroverted self a carbon copy of his dad? Did that smile get passed down from a great-grandfather? And those are just the tip of the iceberg. In the end, I’m simply left with swiss cheese pieces of his heritage.

Maybe one day we’ll learn a bit more about his biological mom and reconnect our son with the thread of his past that remains. In the meantime, I’m not sure I’ll ever stop wondering where she is and trying to find her face in even the least likely places. Whether I meet her or not, she’ll always be part of our story.

 


 

Thoughts on Birth-parents from other Adoptive families…

Caroline’s Story: (foster-adoption) “Our daughter’s birth mother visited her several times when she was very young.  It was important to me that I always treated her with kindness and compassion. I wanted to make sure I respected her dignity and I hoped that she would see that her baby was being taken care of by a safe and loving family.” 

 Lisa’s Story: (Private US adoption) “We have a semi open adoption with G-‘s birth mother.  From day one we decided we wanted G- to know her story.  Once she turned 3 and could kind of understand things we started mentioning her birth mother as her ‘tummy’ mommy and that she couldn’t care for G- the way [my husband] and I could so we adopted her.  We would read adoption books to her and still do to this day. She seems to get it…as much as a 4 year old can.  We also have made it a point to meet with her birth mother once a year and we send her pictures every month.  We want G- to know her story and if in the future she wants a relationship with her birth mother that door has already been opened for her. 

Becky’s Story: (foster-adoption) “We met her [birth mom] a few times and agreed to send a few emails a year.  She has not responded to them since the first one.  We are open to emails and letters but not interested in visits.  We might be when F- is older and has a better understanding of the entire situation.

Pamela’s Story: (Sibling Adoption from Ethiopia): “Since it is an international adoption distance hinders relationship with birthparents/family. We worked with another agency program to locate birth family and send letters and photos of children. We intend to travel back to Ethiopia in a couple years to reconnect with birth family. We describe our family as a blended family so that the children maintain their connection to birth family within our family.”

TERMS DEFINED:

Closed adoption: An adoption in which the adoptive parents do not maintain any kind of relationship with the birth parents through visits or correspondence.  This was once a very common kind of adoption, sometimes with parents never telling their child about their adoption at all.  But studies are showing more benefits to open or semi-open adoptions, though they aren’t always possible.

Semi-Open and Open adoption: Adoptive and birth families maintain some form of ongoing contact.  This could mean the adoptive family sends emails or pictures to the biological parent(s).  It could even mean occasional visits.  In private adoptions, an agency usually helps coordinate the parameters for ongoing contact.  Semi-open adoption involves non-identifying contact (bio family doesn’t have access to adoptive families last name, address, etc.)- but correspondence (and even visits- see Lisa’s Story) can occur.

In foster-adoption, prior to adoption, the state will decide the amount of contact the biological parent has.  The biological parent is given specific goals to reach in order to be reunified, and visits are often a part of that.  The state may also require that the foster-child visit with his or her biological siblings.  Post adoption, the adoptive families can decide what amount of contact with the biological family is safe or healthy or their child.