18 Month Update

We returned to the United States on July 11th, 2015. So we’ve been home now about 18 months. People are always asking us how we are doing. I never quite know how to answer that question. We are doing well, but everything has changed. The transformation in all of us has been rather profound. I don’t think we expected that. I’ve written previously about this and some of the soul searching and deep work we had to do through this process. Had we not allowed God to work in us, I’m not sure we would have survived. Just to give you a snapshot, here are some changes and current states of our family and kids.

  1. The Polish Language is a thing of the past. Pretty much by Christmas of 2015, our oldest adopted daughter was speaking fluent English. But over the past year, it’s
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    Christmas 2016

    been amazing as all four of the kids have essentially forgotten how to speak Polish. They are all reading English and expanding their English vocabulary, but Polish as a language is a thing of their past. Our son still has quite an accent, but you’d never know the girls weren’t born here if it wasn’t for sentence structure. English and Polish are so different in that regard. We did purchase Rosetta Stone Polish so hopefully they can retain at least some of their native tongue, and our oldest has worked on some of it. As the children get older we hope to help them regain Polish and maybe even speak it ourselves!

  2. We continue to try and keep the culture of Poland alive here and there. Last summer in 4-H our daughter made Polish cookies for her baking product with some delicious jam I brought back from Krakow. She got a 1st place! Man were those Kolacky’s good! We made Uszka or Christmas Dumpling Soup for Christmas. Only our oldest adopted liked it, but we gave it the old college try. We’ve also tried to bring in other foods, making homemade pierogi and eating copious amounts of kielbasa! I can’t say we fully observe all the Polish holidays but we try to talk about or mention the big ones. We keep up on what’s happening in Poland and let our children know about national news where it’s understandable and relevant. The little girls really don’t even know they’re not Polish, so it’s kind of a moot point with them!
  3. Our adopted son and bio son of nearly the same age continue to best of buddies. They are inseparable, even when getting into trouble! Neither of them remember much life before the other one, and they are happy as clams about this. Often they’ll spend all day in their room building lego creations together and bossing each other around. They never ask for anything just for themselves but always include the other or even, as our son puts it, “us boys.” All four boys are still in the same room, which is proving difficult and challenging. We are in the process of remodeling the basement to include a family room (so they can wrestle without shaking the entire house) and a bedroom for our older two bio boys, plus a full bath. When this is finished by the spring, we should have some over-crowding relieve….and hopefully the room will be less smelly!!!
  4. There continues to be some sister development between our two oldest girls. Our
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    The Girlies

    oldest bio now has a sister three years younger but kind of in that annoying, tween, follow-you-around, do-what-you-do, phase of life. The younger truly believes the older hung the moon and wants to be like her in ever way. The elder is annoyed by this and is kind of an introverted extrovert who needs “alone” time to think, write, and read. The younger never wants to be alone. Ever. There has been some tension from this; some guilt; some pain. All in all, though, most often, there is a wonderful sister-bond developing which will grow stronger over time. I’m not sure the two of them always see it, but mom and dad sure do.

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    Fall Field Trip

    Three of the four littles are in first grade and doing splendidly, particularly our youngest biological son and our middle adopted daughter (sheesh, we have so many, describing them without using names is quite difficult!!!). Our adopted son is slow and hasn’t developed much of his thinking ability, BUT we have seen vast improvement since the first week of school. He just requires a little more patience and attention. But he’s making it!!! They all are!!! And that’s the best part!!

  6. We have had, by far, the most difficulty with our youngest adopted daughter. She is five biologically, but three cognitively, and probably two emotionally. To say it’s been challenging walking with her would be a VAST understatement. She has brought out both the best and the worst in us – exposing compassion we didn’t know we had and sometimes negative feelings as well. It’s been a process to try and figure out what to do with all of that. The progress she’s made in the last six months has been remarkable. She is bonding, growing, telling the truth (PRAISE THE LORD!), and finding her place. She sings again, and laughs, and isn’t afraid of everything. She’s feeling secure, and loves her mommy! She is unbelievably stubborn, bull headed, and strong willed, and she doesn’t understand expressing love through touch, but she’s learning….and we’re learning how to help her navigate her strong will into good decisions and actions. We still have a ways to go, but man, we sure are thankful for where we are!!
  7. We have finally retired the GMC Yukon we have traveled around in for the past 18 months. We put an extra seat in the cargo area which made it able to haul all 10 of us….but we lost our cargo area!! So back in December we were able to purchase a Ford Transit. It seats 10 but in a much more comfortable way, and we have cargo space!! We can actually do grocery shopping together again. It’s expensive. It’s a big financial sacrifice, but it’s what we need. I think God has used this to birth something in us…..if we ever start an adoptive family foundation, like we’ve talked about, I want it to be something that comes along side families after all the emotion and excitement has worn off. When they’ve been home for six months and need to get a new vehicle, or bunk beds, or something else the family didn’t know they would need. I’d love to be able to give away a few mini-vans or Transits each year to families who really need them. We put all our dollars and energy into just getting the kids home, we don’t often think long term about logistical things. A foundation which would take this burden off of some families would be really awesome!
  8. The Cubbies won the World Series!!!!!

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    Fly The W!!!

  9. How are we?? Mom and Dad?? We’ll, I’ve (dad) changed jobs and now work for our Church Fellowship’s district office. This changes a lot of our rhythms and norms, yet again. So far we have all handled that much better than 18 months ago. The change has been good in lots of ways for us. The pressure which comes with pastoring weighed heavy on Amy and me. Combined this with the issues we needed to address at home and something had to give. Thankfully God knew and He graciously allowed us to move into a job I’ve dreamed about for a long time. I love my wife more today than I ever have. Divorce rates are pretty high among adoptive families. I understand why this would be the case. It’s tough and strains every part of your relationship. But I believe we are weathering the storms and holding on to each other. Could we do better? Sure. Do we have much more to learn? YES! But God is faithful and we are loving watching His plan unfold before our very eyes!!

Finally, I want to ask you to pray for Poland. I don’t pretend to understand all the ins and outs of what is going on in that nation, but for some reason, the ministry overseeing adoptions and families have put a stop to all international adoptions at this point. This probably has some to do with the agency in Ohio cited by the State Department for fraud and other things. The Ministry is also pointing to a 2014 adoption case which went badly. But overarching, I think, is a spirit of nationalism….meaning they just don’t like Polish children being adopted into foreign families. The problem is the facts do not support their reasoning. ALL children adopted internationally in Poland spend a significant amount of time available for adoption in country before they’re released for international families. So the children finding foreign families were not able to find Polish families who were able or wanted to adopt them. Many are special needs or large sibling groups – which most Polish families cannot undertake. So now, unless something changes, many of these children will never have families. What’s worse is any family or child currently in process has to essentially start over. The children previously qualified for international adoption must be re-qualified, and the likelihood is, most won’t be. Poland may also be looking to make the process for whatever international adoptions they may still allow, an already difficult, long, and arduous journey, much more difficult, long, and arduous. This will essentially eliminate Poland from family’s consideration when looking to adopt.

They need our prayers. Those precious orphans who need a mom and dad need our prayers. The families who’ve just lost a child need our prayers. Pray for the ministry to come to their senses and not do this knee-jerk, ill-conceived thing. Develop a better system. Change some of the processes. But don’t cut it off. This would be tragic.

Thanks for praying for us, if you have. Now we’d appreciate your prayers for a country we love so very much.

Going Deep

I need to start with a disclaimer: I am not an expert at this and, and in fact, have no real training in psychology or what exactly is going on in the brain of an orphan. Let’s face it…I sometimes don’t know what’s going on in my own brain! So if you’re looking for expert, clinical, PhD level advice, I would encourage you to stop reading and run to Dr. Karyn Purvis or someone else who is way smarter than me.

All I have is experience. And it’s form this lens I write today.

There’s this book which has really screwed up my life – mostly in a good way. After we had been home from Poland for about four months, we began to see some real challenges in both our oldest and youngest adopted daughters. The issues were different, and still are, but we found it interesting it took that long for them to appear. As these challenges manifested a surprising thing happened. God really began to mess with Amy and me about our own lives. In fact He began to really use the issues we were having with our daughters, particularly our youngest daughter, to expose the issues deep inside our own hearts!
I both hate it and love it when God destroys your hero complex!

It wasn’t until around March of this year we began to understand more fully what God was trying to accomplish. Yes, He has some plans to help our daughter and bring healing to her heart and mind. I truly believe that. But He began to show us unless we let God HEAL US of some of our own stuff, how would we be able to help our daughter find healing? This is the best thing about God: He wants to use us to bring healing to others, but in the process, He wants to heal us of our own brokenness! Don’t miss that.

The intensity of those months, as I’ve previously written, made us really look to find some resources. One of the resources we found is a book called Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. I mention this book in my post on June 6th and link to a point of purchase. But that’s not really what this post is about. God began, using that book, a TON of self-introspection, prayer, and lots of self-discovering conversation, to bring healing to Amy and me.  When I say He began to heal us, I don’t mean He helped us feel better about our lives, our families, or our situation. I mean God reached way down deep into the recesses of our souls, found the oozing wounds from our past, from our families of origins, from our own insecurities, unfulfilled dreams, and self-inflicted damage and began to do a life-altering work to bring healing to the deepest places of our souls.
Now a couple of thoughts on this before we move on to the encouraging parts.

First, I believe the vast majority of us never get to this place. We never become vulnerable enough with God and others to achieve the deep, soul saving transformation I believe God desires for all of us. You see we keep ourselves all locked up. We keep our walls built high and thick to protect ourselves. And I get it. Tearing that wall down is no easy task and frankly is one of the most intimidating things God asks us to do. Some of us have wounds deeper than others. Who would willingly pick that scab and feel again whatever caused it in the first place? But there’s an even deeper reason we discovered many never go there.
Betrayal.
To open up about our pasts – even just to God – feels like a betrayal of ourselves. It feels like forsaking self preservation – being the Benedict Arnold to our own lives! Or worse, giving God access to what is actually true about our family of origin feels like betrayal of our parents, who likely did the best they could but often still cause deep gashes in our emotional life. I know we experienced this. Ultimately we were faced with a choice. We could keep the walls high and remain in blissful ignorance of how our past is hindering our ability to minister healing to our daughter OR we could take the risk of peeling back the layers of our soul, giving God full access and trusting He is working some greater purpose. We chose the latter.

Second, to go to this place of transformation we must have a larger view of this life than just us. We have to realize God wants to heal us so that He can use us to heal others. He wants to heal us so we can love others (particularly those close to us) with a greater and deeper love from God than we ever could have imagined. In our case, God began to help us understand our daughter couldn’t be healed until we allowed God to heal us. We couldn’t love her the way she needed to be loved until we allowed the Lord to do some surgery in our own souls. This may sound crazy, but stay with me a minute. The wounds of our daughter are deep, personal, and mostly emotional. On top of whatever is going on in her head and heart, she can’t tell us what it is! I mean if you’re going to adopt or be involved with orphans at all, you already see past yourself to others – at least one would hope. But this deep work of transformation God wants to do in all of us is so we can love even deeper, care even more, serve with more effect, and do this over a longer period of time. Certainly God is and has been chasing after our children, but we were surprised to find, in this whole adoption thing….He was also chasing after us….so through us He could catch them. It’s kind of profound if you think about it.
God so gently extended to us the very grace He needed us, by extension, to extend to our little girl.

  1. LOVING PATIENCE – God is so patient with us, don’t you think? As often as we can mess up a situation, or do the wrong thing, or try to weasel our way out of a mistake, He remains lovingly patient. Now we aren’t God. We can only take so much from someone before we just can’t take any more! But our children need from us the very same kind of loving patience God extends to us, ESPECIALLY former orphans who often have missing pieces of cause-and-effect thinking, bonding, relational understanding, etc. These things exhibit themselves is mis-behavior, lying to protect themselves, reverting to a previous state of life, and more….and when this happens it can be quite maddening! But in those moments, patience is required. As God so patiently leads us to healing from our disconnected or dysfunctional pieces, we learn how to extend the same kind of patience to the ones we love.
  2. GODLY COMPASSION – I don’t think it’s enough to have patience, we have to also have compassion. This isn’t feeling bad for your children or what they’ve been through. That’s pity. Compassion doesn’t give them room to misbehave and just do whatever the little orphan inside tells them because discipline might make them feel badly. Compassion carefully and gently corrects, but with a great deal of empathy and sweetness. Kindness, loving touch, a sweet rather than always a stern voice, etc goes a long way. Now you need to know something about me….I’m not a pushover and I’m not one of those parents who allows their children act crazy. I am stern, we are clear with our expectations and boundaries, and there are consequences when these are willfully violated. In college I read a book by Edwin Cole entitled, “Maximized Manhood” in which this great man of God advocates for men to be both tough and tender. Sometimes frustration in an area repeated over and over again kills the tenderness and compassion we feel. When working with former orphans we have to remember the issues they have are not their fault. Generally, they aren’t willfully being difficult. There are many contributing factors to this, but usually this is the case even in older children who should “know better.” Compassion says, “it’s going to be OK.” Compassion says, “What you did isn’t OK but I love you so much!” Compassion says, “We’re going to get through this together. I’m not going anywhere and neither are you.” Compassion never gives up, never threatens, never withholds love. Compassion is likely something few of our former orphan children have ever truly experienced. Oh they understand pity. Pity is how they get what they want. But compassion is totally different. They love pity. But they need compassion.
  3. SAFETY – Obviously, I don’t mean providing a safe home and environment physically. Though this could be important if a history of abuse is an issue. I mean things need to be safe emotionally. As for us and God’s healing in our life, there has to be a trust between us and God, us and our spouse (If we’re going to walk through it together), us and our pastor, or things like this. Our formerly orphaned children need a safe place to mess up, too. They need to know if they make mistakes their position in the family isn’t in jeopardy. In our case, when asking about a situation, our daughter will often try and figure out what she thinks we want to hear instead of just telling the truth of what happened or simply speaking from her heart. She can’t make the connection between this survival technique and trusting her parents to have her best at heart. This can be frustrating to us and until God began to heal us, we really didn’t understand this or the need for a safe place. Now, while it’s still sometimes frustrating, we try to keep reminding ourselves she just doesn’t trust us enough yet to be that vulnerable, that we need to keep working for this to be a safe place for her to just be her. It’s difficult sometimes, but we press forward always believing and hoping we will get there. And so will she.

The greatest piece of advice I could give you is this: Healing doesn’t happen overnight, whether in you or in your children it’s going to take time. It’s also going to be painful at times. Working through your own healing or the healing of your child is not simple and not easy. But stay the course. Be consistent. The promise of the Lord for those who engage a journey like this one is this: He will bring to a flourishing finish all the things He has begun in you! That’s great encouragement for those of us in need of transformation. When we hold on to that promise, when we give God access to us, and reach into our children with the same love with which God has reached into us, there is really no issue God cannot heal. He’s done it in me. He’s doing it in my beautiful girl. I know He’ll do it in you.

 

Becoming ONE: Obstacles & Solutions to Blending Sibling Groups

When we told most people about our plans to add four new children to our already large-by-American-standards family of six, their eyes became wide as saucers. Adoption is challenging no matter what kind of adoption it is – special needs, baby, toddler, older child, sibling group, etc. But to take on a sibling group of four is insanity, at least that’s what lots of people told us. They were probably right. But in our naivety we truly believed we could manage the challenge with great levels of success.

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First Contact

But our challenge, little did we know, was a bit more unique. You see, we already had a sibling group of four in our home. These four kids were relationally close to one another and to us. Now, though, we were getting ready to bring a completely separate set of siblings, just as relationally close to one another, into our family. Our job was and is not only to navigate the waters of adoption itself, but also, with God’s divine help, to integrate an established sibling group of four into another established sibling group of four. A nearly impossible task. Because of this challenge, agencies and international adoption communities informed a rule (at least in Poland) which required the oldest child in a sibling group to be the youngest child in the adoptive family. This would mean our 10 year old would have to be the youngest child in our quiver. This rule is so strict our agency did not believe we could get approval to adopt the sibling group we felt called to adopt. Our two older biological children would remain the oldest in our family, but the oldest in the new group would now become third oldest in our conglomerate. The rest of the children would slip into various slots along the timeline of birth order. Surprising all of us, Poland obviously agreed, and our birth order (or pecking order) became dislodged.

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The Four Amigos

We are certainly not the first to do this, nor will we be the last. We have most assuredly faced many challenges because of the birth order paradigm. People are always asking us how this phase of our family life is going. I thought I’d take a post here and share some of the challenges we have/are facing as we work to meld two completely separate sibling groups into one bonded group of kiddos and what we are attempting to do about it.

  1. Insecurity
    Insecurity isn’t something we were used to dealing with. Bringing a new sibling group into our home changed that dramatically!! The new children wondered if they would be as loved, cared for, and important as the biological children. The biological children wondered if the new children would replace them. Would they continue to receive the same love, concern, attention now, or would they suffer since there are more hearts in the house to take care of. Thes questions are fertile ground for cultivating insecurity – particularly in the two oldest in each of the sibling groups. Our biological eldest never had sisters before. Now she has three. She loves them, but has struggled to believe she’s still just as important as she’s always been. This has sometimes produced fear, frustration, and even anger in her as she learns to “share” her mom and dad. On the other hand, our second daughter, the oldest of the adoptive group wanted – nay – NEEDED to feel what our oldest daughter feels. Her solution was to try and be the person she believed she needed to be in order to receive our approval. Thankfully, both are rational thinkers so helping them separate feelings from what is true and real has been possible with much assurance to them of their place in the family. Our oldest is still the oldest. But our second daughter lost her position and is now just one in the middle of the mix. We constantly speak words of encouragement, make alone time for them, and navigate gingerly the emotions of a couple of pre-teen girls! It’s challenging!!! If you have kids and adopt within your birth order, just be aware, insecurity will be an issue you will want to have a strategy to counter-act its affects.
  2. Appreciating Vastly Different Personalities
    When a baby comes into your home the family grows up with the new personality. One of my favorite things was to watch the personalities of my children form as they grew and developed into children. But when children come to your home at an older age – even as old as just four – they have already developed distinct personalities, likes, dislikes, interests, and even hopes & dreams. I think people who grow up from birth together have a natural appreciation for one another. For example, my sister and I are VERY different people. She lives her life and values things often very different than me. But I appreciate who she is and what she values. I hope she feels the same about my life. This issue is also why I think newly married folks sometimes struggle to meld their lives. You don’t really know someone until you live with them and experience them day in and day out. When those worlds collide, everyone has to change.
    In melding two sibling groups, particularly the size of ours, this is amplified. Reality is everybody’s personality isn’t going to be perfectly compatible with everyone else’s. There are going to be small and sometimes massive differences. Think about it….people who may never otherwise be friends because of personality, are now forced to try to be brothers and sisters and they’re coming from vastly differing backgrounds, one of which includes some kind of trauma. That’s a big deal!!
    Several other authors we read and friends who’ve also adopted sibling groups encouraged us to buddy up one bio kid with one adopted kid to do chores, work together on something, play together, or in public. This really has made a difference in helping us appreciate one another. We’ve had many talks with our older children as they’ve worked to integrate their new siblings into their lives. They have often felt guilt for sometimes not “feeling” very good about their siblings or being annoyed because of personality differences. I really think the greatest tools are TIME & PATIENCE. Just now, a year later, we are beginning to see the appreciation take hold. Our greatest advice is be patient with it and don’t try to force the issue. Let your kids talk out how they feel and steer them to begin appreciating the differences rather than being annoyed by them. Eventually, they won’t remember what life was like without each other.
  3. Sharing Space….At Least New Space….Maybe SHARING in General
    For some kids this isn’t something new, and this won’t affect everyone who adopts a sibling group. For many, though, learning to share space can be quite difficult. Our eldest daughter has never had to share space before. Now, she has a sister invading her room, messing with her stuff, following her around, etc. I’ve seen the room taped in half, tents built on the bed to create a cave, and even had to search for 20 minutes to find where she was hiding. To say it’s been an issue for her would be minimizing it. I also believe the older a child is, the more this matters. Our eldest son has also had some space issues and he’s had a brother in his room since he was two. I do believe age has something to do with it…they are 12 and 11, respectively!
    Sharing the room is not an option. It is what it is. But we have done a few things to try and help those of our children who need some help. One was create “keepsake boxes” for each of them. This is a special box (plastic storage or bank box) where they can keep anything they want which means something to them. This way, the things which are important are kept out of harms way and away from curious little siblings. They can always add things or take things out. It’s their box, not the box in which we keep their 1st grade coloring pages. We’ve also made it clear when they need alone time they just need to make us aware. Then we will create the space for them and keep their siblings away for a few hours or whatever they need. With eight kids in the house, we’ve had to be a little creative, but our kids know when they need space, we will protect them and help them find the space they need. Our bench swing, hanging from a thick tree branch in our yard, has become a favorite place to get away and think, read, write, or just be alone…..and mom & dad may occasionally use it, too!
  4. Changing Paradigms
    A paradigm is simply a way of doing something or a way of life. Most of us carry some paradigms into our adult lives from childhood. But inevitably, there are paradigms we establish which are much different from our family of origin. As children come along, we establish family norms and paradigms with which our kids will grow up. We have had some well established paradigms in our family. The way we do vacation; the way we do dinner; the way we do school; the way we do conflict; the way we do days off; the way we do kid’s friendships; the way we do holidays; the way we do extra curricular activities; the way simply do life. Our kids knew these paradigms and loved them (well, most of them).
    When we came home from Poland we quickly realized our adopted kids brought paradigms with them as well. Most of these paradigms weren’t positive – many were just about survival. But some of these paradigms were cultural….the way they’ve experienced Christmas; the way they’ve interacted with one another, etc. Not nearly as many rock-solid paradigms, but a few nonetheless.
    What we did not fully expect, and which has been challenging, is realizing some of our family’s former paradigms would not make the cut into our new family. We have to do things differently….MANY things. We vacation differently; we no longer just pick-up-and-go when we want to; heck, we even grocery shop differently now. This change can cause resentment and even offer the opportunity to place blame for these changing paradigms (the same thing happens in churches when change happens, by the way!) by our biological children.
    So what have we done about it? Here’s a few tips for processing through paradigm shifts we have tried to employ (BTW – you’ll face paradigm shifts of varying degrees your whole life: Church, work, relationships, culture, etc. Just get used to it!):
    -We’ve tried to keep the most important paradigms in tact. The one’s we’ve had to change we’ve explained them carefully, and helped everyone know WHY.
    Beach-Create opportunity for memories to be made. We don’t get out as much as we used to, but when we do, we try and create opportunities for life-long memories between all the siblings. It’s important for our bio kids to have good and recent memories with each other AND the adopted kids. We do this intentionally….and take lots of pictures!
    -Make the mundane memorable. Playing games at home; doing chores, or school; even cleaning up messes. Channel your inner Mary Poppins and make it memorable.
    -Give your kids a voice. Let them tell you some of the paradigms which are/were special to them and then try to provide these experiences when feasible.
    -Add new paradigms which are even more special than the one’s you’ve had to let go. We now do a birthday breakfast for each child on their birthday. It’s 90 minutes of just that child with mom & dad. We started this in 2016 and it’s getting rave reviews!
    -Grow deeper yourself. Discover what makes your soul find life. Then include your kids, spouse, family in these things. You won’t believe the connection they will feel to you and one another doing things you love with you as you do them.

    Integrating two sibling groups into one group is challenging. With time, patience, intentionality, and a spoon-full of sugar, I believe just about any group of kids can become a bonded sibling group who love & care for one another, and grow to have the kind of adult sibling relationships we all want our children to have.

 

How Adoption Saved My Life

This post has been two years in coming……Two years ago I had my life together. I had acquired a great wife, had four children blowing my mind every day, and was advancing in my profession (“ministry” is a better word, but “profession” is probably more understood). Here I sit two years later, a little more ragged, often out of breath, in need of some new rhythms, sometimes exhausted, and more convinced than ever God has ordered every step we’ve taken.

I don’t want to indicate my life was better or worse before June 18th, 2015. It wasn’t either….just different. Honestly, everything was easier before we adopted. Literally everything. The emotional toll has been massive on all of us. We are so far out of any kind of rhythm it has affected every other part of my life and work. I honestly (and naively) believed, when we returned home from Poland, our lives would go back to normal just with four extra passengers. Amy and I tried very hard to fit our new life into our old. It caused great chaos, stress, and tension. Our kids felt it. Our church felt it. We felt it. This perfectly imperfect thing called adoption was shaking us to the core.

I suspect most adoptive families go through something like this – just at various levels of severity. I’ve been known to say it is these moments or seasons of difficulty God is using to forge in us the material and mettle required for the life He’s planned for us. While I believe this to be absolutely true, often we miss the larger picture of what God is doing through the circumstances of our lives because of the challenge of walking through it. The darkest part of the night is when you’re in the middle of it!

It took us a while, but by early this spring we began to realize what was really going on and began to work through the internal and external challenges. I don’t want to suggest I have figured it out or arrived, but in many ways this process saved my life. The list is certainly not exhaustive but as I’ve reflected over the past year, these are nine ways turning my life upside down through adoption actually saved my life.

  1. Adoption Forced Me to Stop Ignoring the Marginalize
    Most of us know the statistics….143 some odd million orphans in the world. That’s a staggering number. But did you know the foster care system in your county is likely overrun with kids (orphans) who need YOU? Maybe you could adopt one of those 143M orphans or one of the 100K kids in the US in need of a home. Maybe you could provide respite care for foster families. Surely there’s something you could do, besides read blogs, to participate in the the mission to take care of orphans. Until your hands are dirty….you’re still ignoring the marginalized. But it’s more than that. Adoption has opened my eyes to the broken all around me. It’s made me more sensitive, more compassionate, more aware of what others are walking through. Humans have always been the point of life. Especially a godly life. Adopting my own broken kids, bringing them into my home, forces me to pay more attention to others who may be just as broken, just not as obviously so.
  2. Adoption Grew My Faith
    If you want to learn how to really depend on God, foster or adopt. Where do you get $50K to adopt? How do you take 7 weeks off of work to go to Poland? How do you help your biological kids navigate all the emotions and issues which will arise in them through adoption? What about the baggage your adopted kids have, some of which they can’t articulate?
    God.
    He knows where to get resources. He knows how to heal the heart of the orphan. He knows how to strengthen the heart of the child. He knows what you need to do and even how you need to do it. If you’ll allow Him to guide you, if you trust Him, if you let Him teach you, your faith will grow in ways you never imagined.
  3. Adoption Strengthened My Marriage
    Amy and I have always had a good marriage. But this journey has forced us to iron out whatever wrinkles we had allowed to creep in. In adoption, you CANNOT afford mis-communication. You CANNOT fill your emotional tanks (which drain much more quickly) through empty wells. You CANNOT be on different pages when you parent – especially orphans because they will turn you against each other!! You MUST find consistency in parenting methods. What you give your children must be the same as your spouse – especially in areas of discipline. All of this means your marriage cannot afford to be a distant one. You can’t be in a dead-end marriage and be successful. If you allow it and approach your marriage sincerely, you will be closer as a couple than you’ve been since you dated!
  4. Adoption Provided Us a More Broad World-View
    I say “us” because this includes all my children. Adoption exposed my biological children to the brokenness often masked in America. They have realized the world is a much larger place than Central Indiana and Central Florida. There are really good people who don’t speak English. Need is everywhere. We are incredibly fortunate and blessed to live in the USA. Most countries don’t have Chic-Fil-A, which is tragic. My adopted kids never traveled more than about 20 miles radius from the place of their birth. Now they’ve traveled 5,000 miles around the world. They are discovering what it means to trust, to love, to just BE. It’s an amazing process.
    When our worldview expands, it’s always a good thing.
  5. Adoption Exposed My Selfishness
    I’m an incredibly selfish person. Most of us are. Some of this dies when you become a parent in general. But to adopt (unless your reasoning is selfishly motivated) requires a complete abdication of one’s self and one’s desires. To love someone deeply and unconditionally NOT born of your flesh is one of the greatest challenges a person can know. Honestly, this idea is what keeps some people from adopting at all. We ask ourselves, “Can I love this child as much as I do my biological child?” The answer is an unequivocal NO. At least not without the help of God. I believe even people who do not follow Christ, unbeknownst to them, when they adopt, receive a deposit of grace and love from God. Why? Because He loves the orphan more than you do. He has hopes and dreams and plans for them which surpass your own. Dissolving selfishness is a supernatural process. God is always trying to lead His people to this end, but adoption will expose it and force the issue.
  6. Adoption Forced Me to Slow Down
    I should say LANGUAGE forced me to slow down!! But the result of that slow down required me to slow down in general. Orphans typically process the world at a much slower rate. Too much stimulation too fast can throw them off. We experienced this very thing in January, and it took two months to re-calibrate. Slowing down is not only something adoption will force you to do, but if you embrace it, you’ll discover you should have done it a long time ago.
  7. Adoption Helped Me to Ask “WHY?”
    Not in exasperation. I ask “why?” in self-examination. This idea is a little too psychological for some, but asking why is HUGE for deep personal transformation. Why do I feel this way? Why am I anxious about ________? Why am I afraid? Why am I angry at _________? Why does it annoy me so much when _________? And many other “why” questions force us to look deep inside for the REASON rather than just trying to address the SYMPTOM we are feeling or observing. Once I realized I needed to do this, I began to help my children ask this question of themselves. Sometimes my daughter is really angry and she doesn’t know WHY. So we ask that question in an attempt to get to the heart of the issue. It’s amazing what you will discover about what’s really going on inside of you or your kids when you ask “why”.
  8. Adoption Exposed My Unsustainable Rhythms
    My rhythms had been unhealthy for a while I just didn’t know it yet. Through the process of the last year, I began to understand this. Asking the “why” question has helped me identify the dysfunction in my rhythms and begin the process of change. I’m not gonna lie….when you’ve established a set of rhythms for a long time, changing them isn’t easy. Your subconscious fights you every step of the way.  But I concluded, ultimately, if I didn’t transform and establish some new rhythms in my life, ministry, and in our family, I would not survive. God has been gracious to us and allowed us this discovery before it became life and death. Now Amy and I are in the process of working these things out and finding new rhythms all the way around. Adoption exposed them. Seeking new rhythms is saving our lives.
  9. Adoption Demanded I Grow Up
    We can’t be emotional children ourselves and effectively parent emotionally broken children. I often mention to Amy how the emotional brokenness in our adopted kids has exposed long forgotten emotional baggage from our own pasts. To help them, we had to grow up ourselves. This is really a rather new understanding, just in the last couple of months. It’s probably why I’ve not written since early April. We’ve been in the process of working through this ourselves. Still are. We found a book which has been exceedingly helpful. It’s called “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality” by Peter Scazzero. You can order it HERE!!! EVERY SINGLE PERSON but especially EVERY CHRISTIAN needs to read this book. It’s incredibly life changing if you choose to do the hard work of growing up. We are. We’ll be better for it and so will ALL our children.

So there you go. How Adoption has saved my life. It’s been a painful journey. But it’s also been exhilarating as I’ve learned more about myself in the last year than probably any year previously. While we’ve worked to rescue our kids from brokenness, they have served to rescue us from our own.

If you’ve adopted, are adopting or fostering, how has it saved your life? How have you transformed into a better person because of it?

Grief

It’s funny (like in an uncomfortable, weird uncle at Christmas kind of way) how long it really takes you to unpack everything the adoption process touches in your life. Really, I’m not sure this process is ever complete, though I’m sure there are much more seasoned adoption vets who could speak to this better than I can. I think for me, going into this adoption, I had this naive idea we would go to Poland, pick the kids up, do our assigned time in country and come back home to life normal, just with more kids. Even writing this statement I shake my head and roll my eyes at myself. What an I-D-I-O-T I was for even coming close to thinking this! Literally NOTHING is the same for ANYONE in your family after adoption. Your biological kid’s lives will never go back the way it was. Your marriage is changed forever. Your adoptive kids may or may not understand how much has changed for them. Honestly we have really struggled with some parts of this. We’ve felt A LOT of guilt for thinking about our life before adoption in any sort of positive way. Like we’re evil if we still love some of the parts of our life the way it used to be. If you let it, the guilt of this can be overwhelming. So I’ve come to a conclusion……It’s OK to grieve.

First, it’s OK to grieve your family pre-adoption. I loved our family of six. This picture is

Photo May 24, 9 20 43 PM

Leaving ORD a Family of SIX

the last picture we ever took together as a family of six. I have some incredible memories with these people prior to May 26th, 2015. Sometimes I catch myself daydreaming about our life before that day – not wishing we could go back, just enjoying the feelings of joy, simplicity, and seeming ease of what our life used to be. I used to feel guilty for this, but I had to realize it was OK to remember and even grieve what this life was for us. It’s really no different to thinking about your life before any children. Amy and I had a lot of fun. We had a lot more time and money and energy. I have some great memories of our vacation in Hawaii before we had any children. What a great trip!! Later that year, Chloe came along. But I’ve never felt guilty or a need to grieve my pre-children marriage. I think this is because it’s a natural progression of life. Adoption isn’t. Adoption is abnormal. It’s not supposed to be this way so I tended to look at pre-adoption with guilt. Instead I’ve realized it’s OK to grieve our previous life, to remember with fondness our family of six. It doesn’t change anything about our love for our family of ten and it doesn’t mean I secretly want to go back. I think it’s actually super important to give yourself freedom to grieve over the loss of  your prior life, particularly if you’re having any kind of bonding issues – which we are. Grieving the loss of this family helped us to accept the paradigm of our new family.

Once Amy and I figured this out, we were able to help our biological kids grieve this same kind of loss for themselves. Children are less mature than adults. They process the world

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and their feelings differently. Our bio kids, particularly the older ones, have had a more difficult time adjusting to our new family dynamics. Just by the shear size and number of children in our family, we’ve had to do many things differently than before. We’ve changed the paradigm our children had grown up with. Suddenly we’re parenting differently, we have stricter rules, our schedule is more consistent and so on. For a kid who grew up one way for ten or eleven years and now has to make major shifts (like sharing a room, having sisters, assigned seats at the table, or set chores & expectations) it can be a big leap. There have  been many times one of our bio kids has expressed, with much guilt, how much they sometimes want to go back to May 25th, 2015. How much their life has changed and how hard the changes have been. For an older bio child, there needs to be room made for them to grieve their loss as well.

Finally, we understand, much from our pre-adoptive reading, the need our adoptive children have to sometimes grieve their losses as well….and they’ve had many. This is the one part of grief I think most adoptive families expect. For our kids who remember their family of origin, they grieve in spurts. We’ve helped them understand when they remember something, how important it is for them to share it with us. I understand why it’s difficult, but I believe they can’t experience deep healing unless they get that stuff out of their hearts!! Often this process includes grief. For our younger adoptive kids who don’t remember life in their family of origin, they grieve their foster families. This became very clear walking into Meijer one day. We were explaining to the two little ones they weren’t going back to the home of their foster mom….like ever. They live here now. The weeping and tears were real and bitter. It was grief. It’s very natural for adoptive children to grieve the loss they’ve experienced from their family of origin, foster family, culture, etc.

So how do we grieve? What would this look like in our life?

  1. Give yourself permission to grieve. It’s OK…even necessary to free yourself from guilt and to accept your new family paradigms.
  2. Journal. Sometimes there are things which need to be expressed from your soul which you almost can’t say. A journal is a great way to get that stuff out. It’s proven wonderfully therapeutic and helpful for my 12 year old.
  3. Let your kids tell you ANYTHING and EVERYTHING they feel without fear of repercussions. Often our children don’t know what they feel and why. They need your help to process whatever’s happening inside of them. Don’t shut them down and make them feel like they can’t come to you. Give them permission to share.
  4. Be patient with your spouse. They will have to grieve differently than you. Some may be deeper. Some may not grieve at all. If you’re not patient with one another through the process, you will have strife. You MUST communicate with one another.
  5. Get help if/when you need it. If you’re really hung up, talk with your pastor, a counselor, or close friend who understands what you’re facing.
  6. Realize it’s OK to celebrate your family at all stages. Talk about when your bio kids were babies. Tell vacation stories. Look through family pictures together. Think how illogical it would be to do anything different. Include your adoptive kids in talking about the history of their family, as if they’re a new baby coming in. They’ll be glad to be included, even though they’re not in the pictures.
  7. This may be too spiritual for some of you, but give the Holy Spirit room to help you. He is the Helper, the Comforter, the Counselor, and the Spirit of Truth. Engage Him; let Him in and He will help you every step of the way. Whether it’s your grief or the grief of your children, He has the answers you need.

Grief is hard. Mourning is difficult. But the outcome and the promise is powerful! Amy and I have held Isaiah 61 lately. Isaiah writes:

Isaiah 61:1-3

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, 2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, 3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion — to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.

Don’t Stop Believin’

It’s been a couple of months since my last past about Fear. We’ve endured the holiday season since then and taken a family vacation. Both are firsts for our full family.

12-20We’ve been having some challenges with our youngest. Behavioral, cause and effect, and bonding issues with mom, mostly. The bonding issue became so intense in early December we started to do some research. Of course, we’d watched the videos, attended the Empowered to Connect conference, and done research on bonding before. To be honest, we were looking at all those resources with the anticipation our nine year old would be the one who would struggle. We just never thought the four year old would be the one having a hard time. But as we began to read about these kinds of issues lots and lots of adoptive families have had, it really began to make sense why we were struggling with her.

First, and as I’ve written previously, her biological age may be four years, but her emotional and sometimes behavior age is much younger. We think somewhere in the 24 – 30 month range. So she is at least 18 months behind where she would developmentally be. It’s a lot harder than it sounds for parents to expect two year old behavior from their four year old rather than age appropriate behavior. It’s difficult to remind yourself of her emotional age when something goes wrong and her reaction isn’t normal for her age. This has been extremely difficult and has given birth to great frustration and even some parenting mistakes (believe it or not, we are not perfect parents!). As we read and studied about this issue further, we began to see some of the evidence of this and how some of our methods weren’t productive. For instance, a two year old has very little cause and effect understanding. My dad loves to tell a story from my toddler years. He had a very nice stereo system and I loved to play with the knobs. One day he stood beside me and kept saying “no” while smacking my hand. Yet I continued to touch the knobs and turn them. I had not concept of cause and effect. I couldn’t make the connection between touching the knobs and getting my hand smacked. One of the issues we’ve had with our youngest is waking up her siblings very early in the morning. She’s been disciplined, sat in time out, had things taken away, had to sleep in a pack and play in our room, none of which changed behavior. Because she’s four, she can repeat to us the expected behavior, but she just can’t follow the instructions. This is maddening!!! Until we remind ourselves of her emotional/cognitive age.

Connected to that Amy and I had passed this stage with our bio kids. Our youngest bio child is five, but he acts much older because of his older siblings. He just processes the world at a level beyond his chronological age (ironic, isn’t it?). I know many people raise their children into late childhood/early adolescence and then have a little bundle of “SURPRISE” come along. You’re not ready for it. You don’t expect it. All your paradigms have just shifted. The life you thought you knew is no more and won’t be back for a dozen years. That’s how it’s felt for us. It sounds very trivial, but it’s been an enormous leap backwards. We were past the stage of little ones in the house. Now we have had to break out the sippy cups, bibs, pack and plays, and are feeding, wiping butts, etc once again – all because these precious little ones didn’t receive the proper care they needed at critical developmental stages. All I’m saying is we weren’t prepared for that. If you’re adopting in this way, you better get ready for this leap back to the future!

By far, though, the greatest challenge and pain has been around bonding. As we have read about trauma in young children, we are learning the issues our youngest no doubt is facing. We figure she had zero months or years of normal, optimal care given to her, zero normal bonding moments before being placed in foster care. Trauma existed from the moment and likely before she was born. So her “normal” is nothing like yours or your biological children’s “normal.” Per a study I just read last week you can find HERE, her brain likely has gaps and literal missing connections because of the trauma she has endured. I mean, as well cared for as she was in her foster homes, it still wasn’t a family. She still didn’t have a mommy and daddy. She still couldn’t understand what it means to fully belong and be complete. Add on top of that we are her FOURTH home…..yes, she is four and we are her fourth home, and no wonder she is struggling. I have no doubt these and many other questions have rolled in her head, even if she couldn’t articulate them this way:

Is this home like the others and I’ll eventually be leaving?
I wonder when another woman will come along and try to take care of me?
Am I safe? Can I trust these people with my whole heart/life?
What is a “mommy” and “daddy”?
Why do I have to do all the things they say?
Do I want to be here?
Why should I love these people? They’ll eventually leave me too.
I won’t open my heart. It hurts too much when I have to leave.

Permanence. The understanding she belongs forever with us and won’t have another family is a concept likely missing and never developed in her little brain. Honestly, I’m not sure it’s fully developed in the other kids either. I’m convinced this issue of permanence is what gives rise in children to trust issues, fear, and the like. Plus, even for kids who do understand and desire to be in a family, once they find out what it REALLY means to have parents, siblings, etc, they may want to change their mind! I always think about this when I see an older child up for adoption. I can’t imagine how different their expectations for being in a family will be from reality. The good news for us, with a four year old, is science has demonstrated she can likely develop and regain all or most of whatever is missing or was lost. We are learning, though, we must do the right things for this hope to become a reality.

The caution here is this…..doing the right thing for your child and your family won’t always sit right with others. We live very public lives as lead pastors of a church and our family is very much on display. Thankfully, our church has never made this an issue, though I know it’s not that way everywhere. However, some of the things we are discovering we need to do with our youngest two will seem odd, different, or even mean to some outsiders looking in. Pulling them out of classes, keeping them attached to my wife at the hip, having to decline gifts and candy and treats from well-meaning people, declining offers to babysit, not allowing physical contact or emotional connections with anyone but mom right now, and many other little things we are just now learning are critical to healing whatever is broken. These kinds of boundaries are hard for people, family particularly, to understand. We don’t expect it to be this way forever, but for a season, this is how we must live.

If you’re in that family/friend category to adoptive children, and not just mine, let me encourage you. If you’re confused by something the parents of an adoptive child in your life are doing, ask them about it. Kindly, un-accusatory (especially you grandmas and surrogate grandmas!!) and with care, ask the parents what would be OK or appropriate. Give the parents the opportunity to decide what’s best for their little one(s) rather than rushing in with the candy or gift or whatever you want to give the child. Recognize these children have not lived normal lives.
They aren’t like everybody PhotoPass_Visiting_Epcot_7589568186 (1)else…at least not yet….and possibly never for some. Be conscientious and respectful of what adoptive families must do to help their children bond and develop pieces of their life stunted by trauma. Address your thoughts, desires, and concerns with mom and dad and then trust their decisions. God has called them to that child, not you. You can likely walk with them but make sure what you intend for good isn’t actually setting them back.

For those adoptive parents out there facing some of these same things or even things much more challenging that us….stay the course. Hold on to each other and to Jesus. Refuse to give up on the call of God for your life. Fight in the spiritual as much as you are in the natural. Some things only come that way. Don’t fight alone. Let someone walk with you – even besides your spouse. You need the companionship, support, and conversation of a good friend. They won’t understand everything you’re facing, but they don’t have to. The temptation is to isolate and walk alone since no one really understands. Don’t. You’ll lose yourself and your sanity!! Give yourself PERMISSION to go to coffee, take a break, not do the dishes or that last spelling assignment today. Spend time with God. Press into Him – not away from Him. His presence will sustain you, strengthen you, encourage you. God is with you so let Him show you how much!!…..and like Journey said….Don’t Stop Believin’!!

 

FEAR

She was shaking. The fear in her eyes was palpable. She had, once again, lied to me and, once again, gotten caught. It’s really not difficult to catch a four year old in a lie. She sat on my bed while I tried to figure out what the appropriate lecture followed by discipline should be to attempt to forge within her brain and emotion the destruction lying causes to relationships…all on the level of four year old who sees the world through the eyes of a 2 1/2 year old. This is not an easy task.

Now let me say I do not believe my sweet little girl is devious. She’s not trying to pull the wool over our eyes so she can sneak out at night to paint the town red. We don’t believe she is trying to hurt us or really even understands what it means to break relationship and trust. She disobeyed a direct order. She lied to cover it up. She later, accidentally mind you, confessed to said lie to her mother. She wailed when she knew she had blown her cover. Now she was literally shaking, overcome by so much fear of what may or may not happen she could not control the situation, her body, her tears, her voice, or anything else for that matter.

As I tried to decide what to do, I felt the Holy Spirit whisper in my spiritNo longer slaves this was not about lying. This wasn’t about disobedience, though disobeying is ultimately what got us here in the first place. This was about a little girl ravaged by fear.
Fear is debilitating. 
Fear is paralyzing.
Fear is a bad counselor. 

She should have obeyed her mother, that’s for sure. She should have told the truth when asked about it. We have had many conversations about the relationship between levels of trouble and lying/telling the truth. If you tell the truth, you may still be in trouble, but if you lie, you will be in HUGE trouble. We just don’t do lying at the Carlson home. But she had lied. Because she was afraid of what might happen. And now she had lost control of everything. Control is safety for her….and, if we’re honest, for all of us. If we’re in control, we’re safe. When we lose control (as if we ever really have it) we become afraid.

Fear. When I asked her if she was lying she asked for more time to think about her answer. I love the way little minds work sometimes! Finally I pressed her, because she already knew the answer and didn’t need to think about it, and she chose to give in to the fear welling up in her spirit; she lied. This is common for her. She lives with fear. She’s controlled by it. She’s been mastered by it.

But the thing is, fear is smoke in mirrors. It’s not real. Our society thrives on the emotion of fear. We watch scary movies to feel it; our media uses fear to control what we think and understand about the world. Some people use fear as a way to control relationships or people they supposedly love. But is fear real? Is it a legitimate thing of which we should be wary or is it nothing more than an emotion we feel but must learn to master rather than being mastered by? Oh, don’t misunderstand….the feeling of fear is very real. But is the feeling of fear actually reflected in reality?
Maybe in horror movies, but in real life? I don’t think fear is real.
One of our children’s workers at our church says fear is False Evidence Appearing Real…I think the acronym about sums it up!

Yet fear probably is the greatest issue of control in your life and mine right now. We may not shake uncontrollably or cry incessantly because of it, but fear, nonetheless, is the greatest controlling force on the planet. Consider:

Millions of people have been murdered because of fear.
Millions of babies aborted because of fear.
Billions of people living sub-par lives because of fear.
ISIS’ reign of terror is predicated on fear.
People fear death more than anything in life.
Many avoid risk of any kind because of fear.
People do not fully follow Jesus because of fear.
People close their hearts to potentially powerful relationships because of fear.
Marriages wane and die because of fear.
Lies have been told, nations destroyed, trusts eroded, paranoia rampant – all because of fear.
147 million orphans remain in this world primarily because of fear.

Like it or not….admit it or not….fear plays a part in your life and mine to some varying degree. Just consider adoption, for instance. Did you know 70% of people in the US have expressed interest in adoption? Do you know how many of those 70% actually follow through and adopt one or more children?

Less than 5%
Why?
Fear.

How will we pay for all the expenses (I agree they are ridiculously high)?
Can I love another child as my own?
Is my house big enough? Can we afford another mouth to feed?
What if our biological kids can’t handle it?
What if the child we adopt ends up having some weird disease?
How will I know what to do?
What will other’s think about our “mixed” family?
How will we communicate? Do I have to learn their language?
What if they’re the kid which smears poop on the wall?
Worse, what if they’re an ax murderer?
What if they don’t love me back?

Fear debilitates our faith and belief in a providential God. Fear paralyzes us from doing the good we know to do. Fear counsels us to just hold on to what we have, keep our hands and hearts closed, and don’t let anyone in. It’s just too dangerous. There’s too many things which could go wrong. It’s safer to just be content where we are.

But fear is fake. It’s not real. It’s possibly the greatest trick the enemy has in his arsenal to keep you and me from stepping into our God-ordained purposes in this life. Let me give you a new definition of fear:

Fear is nothing more than the absence of trust.

For my four year old, it’s an absence of trust in her mommy and daddy. She’s afraid of punishment. She’s afraid of being broken again (lying is a way she protects her heart from being broken). She’s afraid we will stop loving her. She’s afraid she won’t belong anymore; she won’t be loved any longer. She’s afraid she’s in danger. She’s afraid she can’t measure up to our expectations. She’s a slave to fear.

But for you and me, the trust issue goes a little bit higher. Flat out, we don’t truly trust God. We’re not sure He’ll provide. We’re not sure He truly has our best interest at heart. We’re afraid we may find He’s not the faithful God we thought He was. We’re afraid, if we make a mistake, He can’t (or won’t) redeem it. Does He really work things for our good? Is He able to guard the heart(s) of our bio kids; heal the hearts of our adopted kid(s); and bind all of our hearts together as a family? Will He catch us if we leap?

Trust is a funny thing. No doubt, at some point in your life, you’ve felt like God let you down. Maybe you’re still there with Him now and it’s keeping you from taking leaps of faith He’s asking you to take. Let me encourage you to take a listen to a message I preached a few weeks back on the issue of disappointment. I think it’ll help.

Ultimately, there’s only one remedy for fear.
Perfect Love.

perfect loveHonestly, no one can love perfectly. We all love imperfect people imperfectly from our imperfect hearts and imperfect souls. There is only One who loves perfectly. He loves us in spite of ourselves; in spite of our imperfection; in spite of our fear. God’s love for us is perfection, even if we don’t always understand it this way. In fact, our misunderstanding, at times, of God’s love and discipline in our lives is what can erode our trust and open the door for fear to take root. But the truth is, God’s love is perfect in our lives. He only allows things for our good – even the hard stuff (consider Job of Old Testament fame). Discipline is a result of our poor choices outside of His Word and will for our lives. Yet I can’t help but think, if we would fully TRUST Him and receive His perfect love, fear could be eliminated or at least minimized in our lives. I want to encourage you; nay, challenge you to receive His perfect love for you. You’ll be able to trust Him for the things which make you scared. You’ll be able to step in faith and know He will never leave you alone. You’ll do great things in His sight because YOU are a child of God. Trust His perfect love.

The same is true with my children (and yours for that matter). Often fear is the result of misunderstanding our love for them. Why do we discipline them? Because we want them to grow up to be productive, honest humans full of integrity and justice. But sometimes they can’t see past the moment. So fear is produced because they don’t recognize discipline as love, which makes trust elusive, which gives a place for fear to breed.
More discipline doesn’t solve the problem.
Harsher punishment won’t get us there.
Lectures and demanding honestly will not truly breed trust.

We cannot correct behavior and expect trust and love to prevail…
we must address the issues of their hearts with robust love!

Only UNCONDITIONAL and imPERFECT love will destroy fear in our children’s lives. How will they know the perfect love of God if we fail to love them, albeit imperfectly, even when needing to discipline? We must find ways to steel our own emotions, our own fears, yes our anger too, and love our children, adopted or not, as perfectly as we can, through Christ. Honestly, it’s a tall and maybe impossible order….but start somewhere.

I started on the floor of my bedroom, holding a little girl shaking from fear and singing a currently popular song about being a child of God. I tried, in my human effort, to show her what perfect love looks like. Did she lie? Yes. Did she deserve discipline? Yes. Did she need to be afraid of a big daddy who loves her more than she’ll ever know? NO….but she doesn’t yet understand that. She will learn as I SHOW her. It’s now our mission to show ALL of our children this kind of love. Even if we only give them a glimpse of imPERFECT parental love, they’ll have enough understanding to spot God’s PERFECT love for them a mile away.

You too….give God a chance to SHOW you His love. Open your heart to Him today and let the best Father pour in His perfect love until it overflows. I believe He’ll meet you exactly where you are.

I’m no longer a slave to fear…..I am a child of God.
I am safe.
I am loved.
God is FOR ME, not against me.
He loves me perfectly, without defect.
May I learn to love Him the same.

Josh 1:9 – Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged,
for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Things We Lost in Translation

It’s funny listening to my Polish children talk. Our now four year old swears she can’t remember any Polish at all – even though she sometimes switches seamlessly, in the same sentence mind you, between English and Polish. Sure, her English vocabulary is probably that of a 2 year old, but she does really well only speaking the language for five months. My favorite is when one of them starts a sentence or conversation in English and switches to Polish and then back to English. Or they’ll splice in one word here and there in Polish because they haven’t yet learned the English equivalency. Oh and sentence structure can really mess them up! Our nine year old is learning some grammar in our home-school, but she sometimes confuses verb, noun, and adjective positions. It can be quite entertaining.

As entertaining as language issues can be, when it comes to really important conversations and/or concepts, it can be very challenging. In fact, often, without great time, patience, and care much can be lost in translation.

We’ve been home now for nearly three months. We have been the parents, in one form or another, of our Polish kids since May 26th. We first met them in April. It’s hard to figure we’ve only known them for six months. Sometimes I still reflect on where we were a year ago, feeling like we’d never get them home, to now, trying to figure out what this new “home” is like. There’s so much we build up in our mind about how this journey will play out. I can remember idealized conversations Amy and I would have before our first trip to Poland, painting our hopes and dreams for our formerly little family. I wrote all kinds of letters and grant applications touting the beauty of adoption (to which I still wholeheartedly subscribe). Even when we faced hurdles and challenges, we still knew God was in this – He had proven it over and over again after all – and held on to our assurance of His plan. It all became kind of like a language we spoke. One of faith and hope and love. Even so, I think we kind of knew going in there’s no chance everything will turn out the way we planned it out in our hearts & heads. But we kept speaking the language, we kept our dreams for ALL of our children vibrant and healthy.

Now, I’m not saying some of that didn’t come to pass, because it did. But just like most things in life, there was much lost in translation. Things we thought would be easy or natural turned out to be some of the most difficult things we would attempt. I thought I’d spend a few minutes writing about some of the things in our language now, which weren’t when we began.

  1. I don’t know why people tout the adopting of only young children. As if older kids are somehow more broken and need more repair. Granted, our nine year old has lived through much more trauma in her young life than our three year old. But, frankly, the three year old has been much more difficult to bring home. Abby can reason, understand complexities, and talk things through. Our youngest cannot. We have fought much tougher battles with her and because of her survival methods than any of the others. Adopting a toddler is the hardest thing we’ve ever done.
  2. True bonding….like familial bonding is slow. And even slower through adoption. I’m a quick buy-in kind of guy. I can catch just about any vision and be excited about the possibilities. So falling in love with my new children was quick and all the way for me. For others in my family, it’s not been as easy a ride. Which leads me to…
  3. Adjusting. Is. Constant. I may have written about this before, or maybe it’s just such a huge issue it is always on the forefront of my mind. I love when we have good days and feel like we make major progress. When one of my bio kids tells me how much they love their sibling or how thankful they are we took this plunge. But then we have other conversations where I’m trying to talk them into staying in the family! (OK, not really, but you get my point!) Adjusting is just that. Everyone finding their new place in a new family. I expected our Polish kids to have a bit of a learning curve, but in our idealized language, we honestly thought we’d come home and go back to our life, just with four more kids in tow. Nothing could be further from the truth. I’ve been surprised by how much our family has been thrown into chaos. We’ve had to learn new rhythms, new schedules, new meal planning, and more. My bio daughter is learning how to share her space and have sisters. My boys are learning what it’s like to have little girls around. EVERYONE is adjusting. I even think Charlie the dog isn’t quite sure where he fits.
  4. Remembering their age. Not their biological age, but their emotional age. I’ve already written a snippet about this, but it’s so very hard to remember. Our bio 10 year old son has always been large for his age. When he was five or six most people thought he was seven or eight – and they’d expect him to act that way. Even for us it was sometimes hard to remember he was just a little boy. Now we have the reverse. We have maybe a 2 year old in the body of a four year old. Or maybe a 3 1/2 year old in the body of a five year old. And developmentally, this is pretty accurate as far as their life-processing ability. Talk about compounding a language problem! It’s very difficult not to expect more from them than they can deliver.
  5. It breaks our hearts when we think of everything they’ve lost. Not some of the big stuff (as difficult as that is) but just some basic stuff. The kids have zero sense of permanence and assurance. They are certain if they mess up they might lose their place in our family. No child should feel this way. I know we’ll conquer this at some point, but changing that way of thinking in a child is incredibly difficult. Because of their past, we’ve noticed they have very little ability to imagine. The other day, Amy sent the two little girls to their rooms to play. She left them standing in the middle of the room talking about what to play. When she came to check on them fifteen minutes later, they were in the exact same spot and told Amy they didn’t know what to play. Surrounded by toys, they couldn’t muster the imagination to get started. Further, we’ve noticed, other than food, they typically don’t know what they like or what their genuine interests are….because they don’t know! The kids have never had anyone guide them into trying new things to see what kinds of activities they enjoy. I think they’ve always just parroted one another, liking whatever someone else liked in order to fit in.
  6. Over time it has become more and more obvious the older children lack identity and confidence. I say the older children because I think you can identify that issue in older kids but it’s much more difficult in younger children. But, I would say it is likely an accurate statement for the younger as well. The way it manifests, however, is very different. In the older kids, as you might expect, the lack of confidence and self-identity manifests with very sensitive feelings. Anytime the slightest of harsh words are spoken to them, they immediately conclude they are  not liked or cared for any more. We have spent a lot of time talking with them about TRUTH and guarding one’s heart. In the younger kids, and this is the source of our 3 year old’s issues, this manifests as control. She wants to be in control. It’s the only place she truly feels safe. If she relinquishes control to Amy or me, it feels like her whole world is slipping away. We have had this conversation over and over and over again, but her little mind just can’t comprehend what in the world we’re talking about! Control manifests with lying, deceit, independence, a refusal to ask for help (and then creating a much bigger problem), etc. Oh wow….I cannot minimize the struggle this has been and continues to be. All because these little hearts never had the chance to discover their self-identity and enjoy the safety of experimentation in a mom and dad’s love.
  7. When the children struggle to respond to us, it’s very hard not to take their indifference as rejection. Again, this has been most prevalent in our younger girls. A couple of weeks ago, we discovered they honestly believed they would eventually return to Poland and the home of their foster mom, whom they loved a lot. We’re glad they received such good care from her, but we also feel this belief has hindered them from bonding with us. When we tried to explain to them they would never be returning but they were now in our family forever, they wept. I guess that’s how we knew they understood. They wept. Bitterly.
    Not gonna lie…..it hurt, both for them and us as well. I wanted them to want us as much as we wanted them, and to this point, that had not been the case. Who said younger kids were easier??? I know, in our idealized language, we never really considered we would have to navigate feelings of rejection. I get it, I guess, but it hurt a little just the same.

I’m under no delusion. These are just the first few things we will be working through in this journey of a lifetime as we learn to speak the same language. In the meantime, we’re going to keep talking about the wonderful hopes and dreams we have for our family and each of our kids. We’re going to keep praying bold prayers and giving God a chance to mend little hearts. We’re going to get up everyday and keep pressing forward. We KNOW God has joined us together. He brought us together and made us a family. Together, little by little, we will learn to speak this new language. And less and less will be lost in translation.

Oh, by the way, I have another blog I’d like to invite you to check out. This one is about living for God in this crazy world. You can check out my other musings by clicking HERE!!!!. Read the “About” page to see what the title means!

Also, Amy and I have decided to vacate Facebook (look for a post on this coming soon on the other blog). Many of our readers came from Facebook links, which we no longer will utilize. So if you like what we share on this page and have a Facebook profile, would you mind sharing a link on Facebook for us and/or recommending this blog to others who may be interested? Thanks so much!!!!

A Crock-Pot Life in a Microwave World

I have a love hate relationship with technology. Sure, there are many conveniences for which I am eternally grateful: Indoor plumbing, automobiles, online bill pay, our aforementioned clothes dryer, email, toilet paper, and our microwave.

Microwaves are incredibly convenient tools in our lives. They reheat our food, soften frozen butter very quickly, thaw our meat and bread from frozen, cook vegetables, and much more. Invented in 1945, and made commercially available for the first time in America in 1946, today, one would be hard pressed to find a home without a microwave. They are fast and convenient, providing simple and quick solutions to your cooking prep problems, just don’t stand too close to one while in operation!   🙂

Microwaves are excellent at reheating food….but, other than bacon, a regular microwave won’t produce the lusciousness of a grilled piece of BBQ chicken, or the carmelization of a tender filet, the succulence of an oven roasted, salt encrusted potato, or the fall off the bone deliciousness of a rack of ribs. It’s fast and convenient, but it just can’t produce real, edible results for high quality cooking.

Like the idea of the have-it-right-now microwave, we live in a want-it-now culture. If we want something, typically, we just run out and get it. Most of us enjoy marvelous amenities in our lives never before afforded to so many people on the planet in all of human history. For the most part, whatever you need and most of what you want, can be purchased at a store within a reasonable driving distance from your home. It’s quick. It’s convenient. It’s cheap.

But QUALITY is rarely quick, convenient, or cheap. Quality takes time. Quality is difficult to achieve, and quality most assuredly costs more.
Quality is more like a crock-pot.

Now I love cooking in our crock-pot, or maybe you’re more comfortable with the term, slow-cooker. Either way, this device is a wonderful way to get quality food, and a lot of of it. Invented by a Jewish immigrant in the 1940s, the Crock-Pot was originally designed as a Sabbath-loving food device families could use so they didn’t have to break the Sabbath by doing work (cooking). In the 1970s, the inventor sold this concept to Rival Manufacturing Company and the rest is history.

We make all kinds of things in our Crock-Pot: Stews, soups, Honey Chicken, Chicken Parmesan, roasts, ribs, beans, buffalo chicken cheese dip, tacos, casseroles, desserts, etc, etc, etc. It’s always delicious….but it’s not quick. Time, patience, the right combination of ingredients, and progress, a little at a time, are the hallmarks of good Crock-Pot cooking!

Amy and I have concluded adoption is the same way.

Adoption is Crock-Pot not a Microwave.
From the moment you sign up to adopt a child, whether you’re waiting for a referral or you have identified a waiting child, it’s going to take time. For us, we went to court five days before the one year mark of first identifying the children on a waiting child website. This is pretty typical for children waiting on a family to find them. For those adopting and waiting for a child to match with them, the wait can be even longer. We were ready to receive the children into our family long before they actually came into our family. Waiting is frustrating (I’ve written much about it on this blog!). It’s like the Crock-Pot…..the smells begin to fill the house and you think, “It’s ready! I can’t wait to dive it!” but the timer says it’s only halfway through. You can almost taste the goodness waiting in that pot….but it’s not yet. That’s how this part of the waiting feels. You can smell it. You know it’s coming. But you have to wait until the full process is complete.

Finally the moment comes! You pop open the lid and give it a stir. The lusciousness of the food permeates your senses and you steal a bite. Oh what bliss!! The day we walked out of court, with a decree stating these children were ours, was one of the six or seven best days of our lives (matched only by the birthdays of our bio kids, our wedding day, without which none of this would be happening, and the days we met Jesus)! We were thrilled to land in Indy on July 11th and be back on our home turf. Like the day we walked into our home for the first time as a family of 10…and many other lid-popping days where the aroma of this wonderful thing of which we are a part filled our lives. There’s just nothing like that first look…and smell.

But then you get into life. You parent. You correct. You encourage. You find out stuff you wish you never knew but you need to know so you can heal old wounds. There are days you’re so angry over what others have done to these wonderful children – why their family couldn’t get it together for their sake; why the foster system didn’t serve them better; why it took so long to get them home. Those wounds and learned behaviors and old habits aren’t addressed quickly. It takes time. It takes patience. It takes care. And more than anything, it takes mettle. You better buck up, my friend, before you bring this child or those children into your life. It isn’t what you thought it would be when all the ingredients started cooking in the pot. It’s much harder than you thought. Much more emotionally trying. Much more draining. Much more challenging and much, much slower. We have battled for the spirit of one child, while trying to get another one not to lie to us. Our kids are so scared of…well…everything right now. Full of uncertainty and apprehension. The emotions we have felt through this new change is multiplied many times in their little hearts.
It took three weeks for Judah to initiate affection towards Amy.
It took a couple of buckets of tears to emotionally deal with what felt like rejection from another and we haven’t fully conquered this “control” issue even yet.
I’ve talked my bio kids off more cliffs in six weeks than the previous six years.
We are still (and will for a long time) be dealing with the residual affects of our children losing their birth family. Even though it was a train wreck, it’s still a loss for them.
We are still (and will for a long time) dealing with the fact our children have never truly had parents. They don’t know how to trust, how to be vulnerable, how to fully love and receive unconditional love. They’ve never been lovingly corrected or disciplined. They’ve never had anyone tell them they couldn’t have something and explain why. They’ve never been in a place they knew was permanent and could just be them. Heck, they’ve never even had a birthday party…….

All of that and more affects them. Helping them overcome those liabilities and begin to heal from whatever wounds are in there is not a “microwave moment”…..it’s much more like a Crock-Pot. We have to let it simmer. We have to be patient. As my favorite TV chef would say, our patience will be rewarded.

Because we will win. I have zero doubt. God is helping us and EVERY SINGLE DAY there is progress. We’ve just learned to be patient and not expect immediate gratification. We’ve learned to celebrate the little victories (i.e. “She talked to me when I was asking her about ____ and didn’t shut down!!! Yay!!!!”). We’ve learned to hold on to the good and let go of the pain and rejection we have sometimes felt…it’s really difficult not to take that kind of stuff personally. But I must believe our difficulty doesn’t compare to what they have faced in their young lives. I don’t know when we will win, but I know we will. God is STILL working in and through all things in this journey. He’s just showing us adoption is a Crock-Pot; raising children is a Crock-Pot; LIFE is a Crock-Pot.

The very best meals gotta simmer a while.

Home!

I realize it has been just over a month since we have blogged. This has not been on purpose, specifically, but at the same time, we have waited to see what the first few weeks home would bring our family. I mean our desire with this blog is to encourage other families to both adopt themselves, but also to glean insight and thoughts on the process of, pitfalls of, power of, and promise of adoption. We sincerely hope we are helping some of you in these areas.

We arrived home on July 11th to some wonderful friends waiting for us at the airport. After 17 hours of travel, the kids were pretty pooped and overwhelmed by the crowd who had come to greet them. I think they could not comprehend how so many people could love them who had never met them. That is a pretty powerful phenomenon. Any parent has experienced this, loving their children long before they first hold them in their arms. We are grateful for the hundreds of people who’ve believed with us for these children and loved them from a distance just like we have.

American Citizens @ JFK in New York

American Citizens @ JFK in New York

But now we are home. Home is NOT Poland. I have my Yukon back (I may have cried at her site and hugged her. She deserves a name, now). We have our dryer and a washing machine which will hold more than three pairs of jeans. We are thankful for some of the comforts we enjoy! People ask us all the time how things are going. I’m never quite sure how to answer that…..I have nothing to compare our experience to besides those we know and love who’ve gone before us and been gracious enough to share their journey. Ultimately, though, everyone’s adoption journey is unique to them….ours is still unfolding.

First, the adventure has definitely worn off. Of all of us. We are all trying to find the new normal. Our oldest four have had the most difficulty with this (one is adopted in that group). Their emotions are high, they understand what is happening, and that things will never again be what they were three months ago. Dealing with change isn’t easy. Our oldest daughter, particularly, has wrestled. Previously, she was our only girl and my only princess. Now she shares that with three other sisters. She shares her room, her space (she’s a bit of an alone-time seeker like her dad), her dolls, and her closet. What she’s discovered is her sisters don’t exactly have the same definition of “clean” as she does. This has caused some friction. We have been encouraging much grace and patience.

Our nine year old daughter (adopted) is finding her place. She’s the oldest of the adopted bunch and she’s a girl….so those two oldest girls, both used to being the oldest, both used to being in charge, both bull-headed and strong willed, have had some battles. Nothing brutal, just, what I would consider, normal brooding and space-defining; jockeying to find their position in the family again. The little girls are oblivious to all of this and are normal five and three year old knuckleheads. Chloe and Abby, often knuckleheads themselves, will find their way, and they are.

The boys have dealt with some jealousy, I think, of sharing mommy and daddy with their brothers and sisters. Not unlike how a toddler might feel when a new baby is brought home from the hospital. I don’t think the boys would articulate what they feel as jealousy, but we think there’s a little bit of that going on. Overall, the boys are getting along splendidly, though our ten year old wants his own room back – mostly because his brothers don’t exactly clean their messes up. Judah, our six year old adopted son, has integrated nicely and is VERY thankful for brothers, though he’s not trying very hard to learn English. I think this will come.

Since our oldest children have had the hardest time adjusting at home, we have tried to maintain open dialogue and quality time with them so they can express how they feel, often through my daughter’s tears. She loves her sisters and is glad they are here, so she has some guilt over how she sometimes feels about non-essentials. She’s also eleven and hormones are beginning to express themselves! Patience, time, copious amounts of grace, and refusing to “rescue” the adoptive children from sharing responsibility is helping a lot. I think in six months or a year we will all have adjusted and will find our new family rhythm again. But….it very well may take that long….

We are trying to keep in mind, our children are children. We shouldn’t be surprised the five year old acts like a five year old. When you combine this fact with the issues of our adoptive children’s past and the fact they have never truly been parented, you end up

The Underpants Actors

The Underpants Actors

with challenges we never faced with our biological children. For instance: pouting to get your way. We nipped that one in our biological children when they were toddlers, before they could talk back! But NO ONE, and I mean NO ONE has ever nipped that one in our adoptive kids – especially in the girls. So the two younger will pout to try and get us to give them what they want. It has been an uphill battle, but i think Amy and I are helping them understand we’re not moved by their stuck out lip and a few tears. We’ve seen it all before! The problem comes when this is not dealt with at a younger age. We end up with a nine year old whose pouting to get her way at age five or six, has turned into full out manipulation to get her way or blame her sister(s) for something. This will be a harder mountain to climb and a common survival tactic of older adoptive children, but we believe consistent parenting will ease this over time. It’s already helping. My goodness how far we’ve come in just over two months with them!!

There’s the word…..consistency. Look, VERY FEW adoptive children has any amount of consistent discipline, parenting, reasoning, etc to help them grow as a person. All of

The Princesses

The Princesses

them have received sub-par care for a portion of their life, and most of them have received marginally better care in an orphanage or foster system. Virtually NONE OF THEM have actually been parented. I think it’s because people feel sorry for the past they have suffered. I get that. But honestly, feeling sorry for them, and because of that, giving in to their every whim, makes the parenting job of their forever family much more difficult. On a side note, I guess this issue isn’t reserved for orphans only. As a pastor I see MANY children whose parents are failing to provide the discipline and consistency the child needs. The result of a lack of parenting at a young age is a selfish, manipulative, arrogant, and entitled brat at an older age. The lack of consistent parenting in my generation is killing us as a people. If the tide doesn’t turn, I shudder to think what we’ll be left with in twenty or thirty years. I mean congress is bad enough now, right? We must be better parents.

Back to the family…..if you’re bringing internationally adopted children into your home, try and prepare them for the differences in routine, atmosphere, food, and weather. My kids have been astounded at the humidity we have in Indiana. I hate it too, but living here all my life, I’m sort of used to it. These kids are from Northern Poland, on the Baltic

The Brothers Knucklehead

The Brothers Knucklehead

Sea where there is zero humidity and a hot day is 75. We’ve had two of them nearly pass out because of overheating! Food is an issue for many adoptive kids. Abby has been the greatest challenge with this. She hates Cheeze-Itz….but she loves Goldfish Crackers. We tried to explain to her they’re virtually the same thing, but she didn’t believe us!! We’ve been consistent with her trying all the new foods. At first she was very obstinate and stubborn. I think she sat at the breakfast table for an hour and half one morning because she refused to eat her Raisin Bran. With eight kids, you get what you get and you don’t throw a fit!! It’s our motto. My encouragement would be to maintain consistency and don’t indulge the manipulative pouty-ness employed to get something different. If you do, you better be prepared to be a short order cook!

DSC_8512-EditIt’s definitely still an adventure and challenge, but in a different way. There’s no more paperwork (for now); we don’t wait on pins and needles for an email with fresh information; and we don’t constantly day-dream about the day we will get to all be under the same roof….all of this has been accomplished! The challenges are just different now. Thankfully, we’ve not had behavioral issues, fits of rage, nighttime issues, or things like this. My heart goes out to those of you who have dealt with much more heartbreaking and difficult children than mine have so far demonstrated themselves to be. I trust the Lord will walk walk with you as you trust Him and believe in His plan for all of you.

After all….this whole adoption thing was His idea, right?