A Thousand Tears: Perspectives on Adoption From A Biological Child

This post has been a long time coming. I’ve wanted our oldest biological child to write about her experience and the difficulty thereof related to our adoption for a long time. Personally, I feel the bio kid’s perspective is one which is often overlooked, but there world is turned just as much upside down with adoption as anyone’s.

Recently, Chloe had to write a paper about injustice for her Freshman Honors English class. The assignment was to write about the affects of an injustice personally experienced or observed by the student. Chloe decided to finally write about the difficulty of the early days of our journey (nearly five years in, now). Below is her paper…..I hope it helps bring perspective on her struggle AND just maybe helps another bio kid going through similar difficulty because of their parent’s choice to adopt.

A Thousand Tears

I’m sitting on the couch with my mom, enjoying an episode of ‘Unwrapped’. Soon enough, after lounging for maybe ten minutes, my dad calls my mom from the upstairs bedroom. My younger sister was at it again. She was about to get in trouble for something she did, and my mom wasn’t going to come back and watch TV with me. It was a common pattern now that I had four new siblings. I would be ready to enjoy some quality time with one of my parents and then one of my siblings would do something they shouldn’t and it would take my parents hours to get things under control. It wasn’t my sibling fault they were disrupting my family, it was simply the only thing they knew to do. It was subconscious survival. I’m laying in bed trying to sleep and my mom comes in and says,

“I’m sorry I couldn’t finish the show with you. But I had to deal with a situation with your sister.”

To which I replied, “It’s fine.”

But it wasn’t. I was disappointed and angry at my sister. I wished she and the others could just be perfectly fine and get along and I could have my parents attention back. I realize this sounds greedy, but my parents were pouring more of their attention into my new siblings because the security of being loved, an essential need to all people, was missing from their lives. I knew they’d been treated unjustly for the majority of their lives, really until my family stepped into the picture. It wasn’t fair for them, they were only kids and hadn’t done anything to deserve whatever it was they had gone through. But I didn’t understand why I had to deal with the effects of it. Recently, I had felt like my parents were only focused on them and I was an afterthought. They were busy cleaning up the mess of my new sibling’s past lives and seemed to forget I still craved attention too. I lived for a while feeling disappointed.

During this time, events like this were common. I was even beginning to feel it in my friendships. My best friend seemed to like my younger sister more than she liked me. I tried to tell her it made me feel forgotten. She would promise, “I understand, I won’t do it anymore.”  But she would consistently engage my younger sister while ignoring me. She was fascinated by her. I began to feel our sense of sincere, deep friendship slipping away at the hands of my new sister. The trust and privacy we had once enjoyed no longer existed.

Finally, I noticed a change in how the trusted adults in my life approached me. They would ask, “How are you?”, but this was not what they were truly asking. It was their way of asking how my new siblings were acclimating to our family. What I desperately desired was for someone to be asking how I was. For a while, no one did this. Yet, because I felt guilty for the feelings I experienced, I never wanted to be honest with my parents. I just needed an adult who understood my situation and really cared enough about me to listen. No one knew my situation better than my parents, but regardless I never told them everything about how I felt. I turned to either journaling or bottling my emotions (which I now realize was not healthy at all). Every day was an emotional roller coaster. Constantly, I thought, “Why did we do this?” or “I never did anything to them, why do I have to put up with their emotional baggage?”

I felt guilty for my emotions and thoughts, and if I’m entirely honest, I still do sometimes. I should never have been jealous and greedy, but I was suffering the aftermath of what my new siblings had experienced. For some reason God had chosen my family to clean up the mess. But, I didn’t see it as fair. We hadn’t caused their hardship, so why did we have to fix it. My feelings were real and raw, but I now realize I had to feel those things so God could grow and change me through them. How much sweeter does a breakthrough taste after having suffered through the bitterness of injustice! Now I see how God uses suffering to help us grow through and process change. I witnessed injustice in my siblings lives and experienced injustice through the baggage they carry. But in the midst of it, I found God was still faithful. Crying was a way of life during those times, but I didn’t want to cry, I wanted to be happy again. I experienced many emotions such as: guilt, annoyance, jealousy, and others I struggle to describe. I found the discipline of journaling was a helpful way to process these emotions. Often God would help me understand how I felt through what I wrote. With God’s help I filled many pages through this season of my life.

I remember when the movie ‘Inside Out’ came out in theaters and my family went to go see it shortly after returning home from Poland. I felt a deep connection to Riley, the main character. She was the same age as me and was experiencing many new, difficult changes. She loved the idea of moving to San Francisco, but when she actually learned what this entailed, she wanted to go home. I connected to Riley on a meaningful level, though I never explained it to anyone. I wanted to return home, just as she did. Not to a physical home, but home in the sense of the normal things I was used to. I wanted it to be me and my brothers, no sisters. I wanted to return to my place as the only daughter. I lost my best friend, only for a time though, and so did Riley. When everything else was stripped away, grief was my primary emotion.

While I was processing through these emotions this week, in order to write this narrative, I discovered a song which spoke to me on a profound level. “Blessings” by Laura Story has a chorus which says, “‘What if your blessings come through raindrops, What if Your healing comes through tears, What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near, What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise.” I can see with newfound clarity through this song, what I have never seen before. I realize now tears are often necessary for processing and grieving. Although I sometimes felt guilty for crying and grieving, the lyrics of this song helped me understand healing often comes through those tears. These ‘trials’ were preparing me to see the blessing and the work of God in my siblings and family. Now, I am also assured God had me in mind through it all, not just my new siblings. The majority of the time I can honestly say my sister (the oldest of the three) and I get along quite well as true sisters, not just two people forced to share a room because we were thrust together by God’s plan. My biological brother and I had spent many nights talking about our feelings towards what was happening in our family. These talks proved extremely healthy for both of us. Although sometimes things are still difficult, I now understand God is using this to do a deep work in my life and make me who He’s called me to be. God can use any injustice for His glory and our good if we will yield to Him.

No Greater Love

***Warning!***Philosophical Post Ahead!***

Yesterday was Easter. April 1st. IMG_9088Easter is kind of an important day for the history of mankind. Officially, though American Culture seems to have hijacked the meaning of the day, Easter is about the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. This timeless and unbelievably important act cannot be under emphasized in its value to humanity. Essentially, it bridged the gap between man and God. It finished the work of the Cross and finalized the invitation of “whosoever believes” can be saved and be with God. But we’ll save the theology for another time.

Yesterday, as we participated in celebrating the resurrection, our pastor quoted the verse from John where Jesus said, “Greater Love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” Of course, in this instance, Jesus was foretelling the disciples concerning his own death on their (and consequently all humanities) behalf. Jesus was freely laying down His life for theirs; taking their sin; taking on death so His “friends” throughout all the ages wouldn’t have to. But Jesus’ likely had in mind others who would sacrifice their lives for “friends,” and even now and then enemies. All of the disciples would eventually give their lives for the cause of Christ and for their friends for all generations to make Him known. My point:  Countless selfless acts of sacrifice have reinforced the truth of Jesus’ message throughout the ages.

When I think about this passage, I naturally think about death. The ultimate sacrifice. Shedding blood and the last breath in my lungs so that someone else can live – or at least live eternally. But I’m not entirely sure this understanding is all Jesus had in mind.

As I sat in church yesterday thinking about this, I got to thinking about families, like ours, who’ve adopted. In many ways I see parallels. I see adoption as one of the expressions of this verse. What do they “lay down?” What do these families sacrifice so their friends can live?

We’ve loved with incredible love. Any family who’s adopted or fostered has had to choose this kind of sacrifice to love children who are sometimes incredibly unlovable and broken. Frankly, it takes a different kind of love than loving one’s biological children. Loving adopted/orphaned/foster/broken children is not like anything I’ve ever done. I kind of think this is how God often chooses to love us….as former orphans, we too are sometimes unlovable. God couldn’t love us with an every day kind of love. Or even a familial kind of love. It takes the greatest love in history to be able to love this way. The laying down of our lives for this kind of love is remarkable.

When a family chooses to love orphaned children, we get a crash course in the sacrifice it takes to love with this kind of love.
We lay down an incredible amount of emotion – on every level and then some.
We endure rejection by those who are supposed to love us.
Often our love is spurned by our very own children.
The future we dreamed for our family is forever changed because of an adoption journey. Some dreams will never be realized. Many are put on hold. Some die.
We put a ridiculous and, I think, criminal amount of money into this process – to say NOTHING for the amount it will take to raise these kids to adulthood. Amounts we never considered:  Retirement plans, college savings plans, family savings, vacations, transportation needs, housing needs, schooling, therapy, etc. There are many grants out there for adoption expenses, but none for the afterMATH!
Relationships with our spouses and our biological children are placed in jeopardy, at least statistically speaking.
What our biological children have had to sacrifice, through no choice or fault of their own, is something we think about every day.
We love with purpose and passion to raise these children to be effective adults WITH NO GUARANTEE they’ll even stay around when they grow out of our house.

I’m not trying to toot the horn of adoptive families or gain sympathy. We’re not whining and we’re no superheros. I’m just saying the sacrifice is nothing to dismiss and most people will never see the depths of sacrifice nearly every adoptive parent makes to love their children. People on the outside only see the “social media” version of our families, like the Easter pic I shared above. They never know about the tears, arguments, testing of our marriages, challenges to parent in a whole different way, and so much more. It takes an incredible love. A love powerful enough to overcome frustration, fear, feelings of rejection, grief, passing desires to quit, to fulfill this calling.

This adoption has affected my family, my marriage, and me personally in ways I could never have anticipated. I believe every adoptive family, in the dark moments, wonders what life would be like if they’d never adopted, even wish, rarely, they could go back. These passing thoughts have run through our heads from time to time as well. Thankfully, they’ve never been anything but passing. This has been a calling for us. Not a choice we made or something we just thought would be interesting. Like our lives in ministry, this has been a calling from God. Had He not spoken to us, we never would have done this. He loves us with NO GREATER LOVE. I guess He believes we can love with that same kind of love. That’s why He calls families to love orphans.

Because that’s exactly what it takes, right? It takes a love willing to die for this thing. It’s a supernatural love. The Apostle Paul said the same power which raised Jesus from the dead is at work IN US. My pastor quoted that one too, yesterday. Amy and I can NEVER love our children, biological or adopted, strong enough on our own. We need a supernatural kind of love exuding from our lives to love them or anyone else for that matter with effect. So our Father, in His wisdom, placed in us who believe the VERY SAME POWER which raised Christ from the dead so that we can LOVE WITH THAT VERY SAME LOVE!

I’ve spent a lot more of my life loving in my own strength than loving in His power. It’s why my love is imperfect. My love is finite. My love can be tainted. But when I love my wife, my kids, my fellow man, with a supernatural love only found in the Power of God, there is no more powerful force in the universe. I am learning and want to love with this kind of love. This is God’s love. There is NO GREATER LOVE. 

Your Story is Your Story

2014 seems like an eternity ago. But it has only been three years since we began this journey. I remember in the early days, during all the waiting, how my wife and I would primarily spend the days in-between updates doing two things.

First, we’d gather as much information about what to expect as possible. We read several books, blogs, and articles on adoption; on adopting siblings; on adopting European children; on adopting out of birth order; on blending biological and adopted children into one sibling group, etc. The internet, adoption advocacy groups, our library, and even Netflix had plenty to offer. We devoured this information like ravenous wolves in an effort to be as prepared for this adventure as we possible could be. We wanted to know all of it – the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Second, we tried to find out as much information about the Nation of Poland, Polish people, and Polish culture as possible. This was a little harder. In our efforts, even Rick Steves had only produced one show on Poland and it wasn’t even the whole show! Few other TV travel people had spent much time there. When we found something useful it was like hitting the jackpot! We loved seeing the country, hearing the language, and exploring the culture. We even connected with a local Polish cultural group a time or two. We wanted to know as much as possible about this country from which our children would come.

Probably our greatest source of information and encouragement was from our newly met Polish-adopted local friends. We were so encouraged to know someone else had actually done this before – in nearly the exact same way. It was encouraging to hear their victories and even their struggles. We spoke candidly about the process and the difficulty of adopting children with trauma. Our hearts hurt for the brokenness their children had experienced, but rejoiced with them in every victory. This encouraged us and made us love ALL of our children all the more.

All in all, I think if we had it to do over again, we’d probably do the exact same things.

Probably any and all adoptive families do things like this leading up to and following their adoption journey. In fact, some of you reading this now are doing exactly the same thing my wife and I did for nearly a year…..connecting with and learning from other people’s stories. I’m grateful we have these kinds of things available to us. It makes a huge difference.

But I have one caution for you pre-adoptive people (or even post-adoptive people looking for answers)……

Don’t compare your story with ours or anyone else’s. Your story is your story. While you can glean much from what others have gone through, you really can’t understand or be entirely prepared for what this journey will bring. This is because every story and adoption journey, every child to be adopted, every family is different. Not one experience will match perfectly with any other. Sure, we can learn and grow much from sharing with one another what we’ve been through and with what we’re dealing. I think the danger begins when we believe our story should be the same or better, or if we’re experiencing more difficult things than someone else, that we’re somehow doing it wrong. So just a couple of quick points:

  1. Resist the urge to compare yourself/your story to others. Your story is unique and that’s a good thing! Your child(ren) has unique challenges. That’s OK.
  2. If someone’s public persona seems too good to be true, it probably is. Herein lies the danger of comparing. We live in a society which values positivity and happiness over authenticity. In my experience working with many adoptive and foster families, there are ALWAYS difficult things. Not that we should focus on that, but if  a blog you read or someone you share with paints a picture of perfection, don’t believe you’re failing or useless or doing it wrong if your picture is more flawed. Chances are they have struggles they’re just not sharing publicly. That’s their call, but don’t measure yourself or your family by those standards of perfection. It will be damaging to you in possibly profound ways.
  3. Embrace your journey one day at a time. It’s OK if you had a bad day, if you got nothing accomplished, and you feel emotionally empty. Get some rest and start over tomorrow. While you’re at it, pick up the book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality and begin building a strong inner life which can sustain days or even whole seasons like this one. I promise adoption will bring out the best and the worst in you. Having some tools to fall back on during those times can be the game changer. And for heaven’s sake, let yourself off the hook once in a while!! You’re not a perfect parent, let alone a perfect adoptive parent! You’re going to make mistakes – especially early on. Recover. Adjust. Ask for forgiveness for mistakes. Hug it out. Move forward in love. That’s a recipe for healing.
  4. Choose joy over happiness. Everything is harder and more complicated after you adopt. It can be difficult to find your groove again. You will, but it will take time. In that, often we lose our happiness. That’s OK for a season. Just don’t lose joy. The Bible says to be joyful ALWAYS and give thanks in all circumstances. This is great advice. Joy is a state of the soul, not an emotion of the heart (happiness). But since it’s not always something we feel, it’s usually something we have to choose. I know it’s hard – it is for me – but if you couldn’t handle it, He wouldn’t have called you to it.
  5. Find someone to journey with. There are many online adoption communities on social media and other places. Check with your agency to see if they have any other families locally who’ve used them for adoption. Get together and share honestly. Support one another. Start a support group at your church for adoptive and/or foster families. Do everything you can to do life with others and make sure no one whose taken up the call of adoption has to walk alone.

I hope this encourages you. Amy and I know what it’s like to struggle in this journey. We know what it’s like to hurt and be broken. We know what it’s like to lose our joy. But we also know what it’s like to come out the other side. If we can share with you or encourage you in any way, please…..please don’t hesitate to contact us.

We are rooting for you….and for every orphan on earth to find their family.


Top 10 FAQ’s (Part 2)

Here is the 2nd part of our FAQ posts! this will answer the other five questions we most frequently receive from curious people.

6. Do they speak any English? OR How have you handled the language barrier? 
I think this is a great question and an issue just about every international adoptive family will face. Most countries in Europe now have English as part of their regular public school curriculum. In Poland this started in First Grade. What this meant for us was that our oldest daughter had received a couple years of English before we got there (think High School Spanish!). She knew a few words here and there, but not much else. The other three knew literally nothing. They couldn’t even read Polish let alone English!!! We used Google translator A LOT those first several months. Sometimes this worked and other times I have no idea what we said to them! By Christmas of 2015, six months after returning to the US, they were essentially fluent in English. Often they would mix up word order or phraseology (which was quite humorous!), but they could communicate and understand most of what was spoken to them.
One thing we learned was even if they didn’t have any idea what we said to them, they would tell us they understood. I don’t know if this was out of fear of being wrong or they thought they’d get in trouble or what. That was frustrating. We would think we had communicated something, they would do the complete opposite, we would wonder why they disobeyed….and on and on and on. Once we figured out what was going on, we took more care in communicating, and still do, especially for the younger kids. My encouragement to other families would be to go slow. Say it a number of ways, not just one, and ask clarifying questions. Make sure they fully understand before you move on.
By the time we’d been home a year…..they didn’t even remember Polish!! None of them can speak Polish now, which is kind of disappointing for us. We did buy the Rosetta Stone Polish edition so they can re-learn it or maybe even we can learn it. It’s one of the hardest languages in the world to learn….but I have to believe it’s still hidden inside them somewhere.
Bottom line with language: It’s an issue if you make it one. Take it easy and it will go well.

7. Has the adjustment been difficult? 
This would be the understatement of the century. I’ve written a little about that on this blog. I wrongly believed we would pick up the kids, go back home, go back to our life just with four extra passengers, and slip right back into where we were when we left May 25th, 2015. How naive!!!

Everything has changed.

I don’t want to belabor the point here, and I’d encourage you to read more about it if Easter 2017you’re in the same boat. Essentially, we lost everything. We lost our identity. We lost our rhythms. We lost our understanding of who we each were in our families – all 10 of us lost that in different ways. We lost our emotions. Some say we lost our mind! We definitely lost hope and faith for a little while.

But GOD is faithful.
GOD is a redeemer.
GOD is a way-maker.
GOD is the restorer of brokenness and turns ashes into beauty.

Just look at that Easter picture. We’re even all smiling!! It’s amazing what God has done these nearly two years. I just can’t believe it. We have A LONG WAY to go, and we’re not home yet, but He will finish what He started (thank you SC2)!!!

If you’re struggling to adjust, let me encourage you. Rid yourself of expectations and guilt. Trust the process. Yield to the timing of the Lord, not your own timetable. Let it be. Love hard. Pray harder. Hold on to your spouse, and together the Lord, the hardest.  God will make a way.

8. Aren’t they just so thankful? 
Frankly…..no. And we don’t expect them to be. Our oldest kind of understands what has happened. But the full spiritual, emotional, genealogical, etc ramifications she doesn’t quite understand yet. The other three have no idea what has happened. Our youngest two daughters now say they remember they used to live in Poland, but that’s all they know. I suspect in the long run they won’t remember anything. Our son is definitely thankful. THAT HE HAS BROTHERS!!!! Honestly…..it was kind of hard for these kids to suddenly have parents who told them what to do, wouldn’t let them incessantly watch TV, only fed them at certain times, and made them go to bed. “Having parents is tough” is a mantra I’ve told our oldest many, many times. She’s not so thankful for that all the time 🙂
But they’ve also begun to understand, for the first time in their lives, they are fully safe. They don’t have to worry about being dumped with a relative or an abusive baby-sitter. They aren’t going to have to put up with great uncertainty in their lives. All is well. I think someday they’ll be thankful for all of this.

We’ve had some people accuse us of doing this out of a personal sense of awesome or something. That’s just ridiculous. And anyone whose ever adopted or fostered knows just how ugly the process can be. Most of the days, especially early on, we wouldn’t have wanted anyone to see us. Some other well-meaning people thought we were amazing people; heroes even.

TRUTH:  We are just servants called to obey the master.

We adopted because the Lord picked us for them and picked them for us. We were just willing. He knew the ugly we’d walk through. He knew the pain we would face. He knew the issues our kids would have – both adopted and biological. He knew how much we would need Him to walk beside us. We were the wrong people for the job. We were. But God often calls the wrong people to do extraordinary things for His purposes.
So no, we don’t feel like heroes. We don’t expect our children to be grateful. We still strike out as often as we get a hit. But God is with us and with them. We follow His lead….and He’s the MASTER ADOPTER!

9. What in the world did you do for 7 weeks in Poland?
Truthfully, a whole lot of nothing!!! Had our family been a little smaller we would have rented a van and explored the country a little more. Two things worked against us: Anything over 9 passengers requires a commercial driver’s license in Poland. Well that wasn’t going to happen!! And second, our agency strongly discouraged families from renting cars.
Had we it to do over again we would have rented at least a car. We were totally and



completely at the mercy of others so the issue of exploring the great country of Poland wasn’t willingness, funds or desire….the issue was transportation!! We met a driver who had a large commercial van who we hired to do a few day trips. We visited Ustka, a resort town of sorts on the Baltic. We spent a day in Gdansk, which was very cool. And we spent a day at Malbork Castle which was PHENOMENAL. We loved that!!! We probably paid our driver $300-$400 for those trips altogether. It worked and we enjoyed our trips. Our hosts took us grocery shopping a couple of times per week, but to have the freedom to just run to Tesco or Lidl would have been nice – especially for my oldest daughter and I who need to get out now and then!!!

10612745_10153110201992054_5725200762423396368_nOnce we moved to Tumiany for two weeks, we went no where besides the grocery store. We bonded wonderfully there though and our hosts were so very kind and gracious. But we were pretty bored most of the time. This pic of me in Tumiany sums up how most of us felt a lot of the time.

Our final week we spent in Warsaw. We had much to do to get ready to come home, but we were able to take the train to Krakow for a day. Krakow is one of my favorite places on earth. Just a lovely city. Just as lovely as Vienna but MUCH, MUCH cheaper. We met some friends from Czech, and our gracious friends the Healys came from the States to help us travel home. We enjoyed exploring Warsaw with them and just had a wonderful week!! Of course we were all amped up because we were about to go home!!

The advantage of Poland is the cost of living is very low, especially for Americans. The Zloty is a 4-1 exchange to the US dollar. This took some getting used to. Something would cost 100zl and I’d get a little nervous…until I reminded myself that’s only $25. I spend more than that on Chic-Fil-A!!!

10. Will you adopt again?
Let me answer this in two ways:
WOULD we do it all over again? YES!!! I think there are many things we would change were we to take another crack at this, but we would most definitely do it again.
WILL we do it again? I don’t think I can totally answer this question. OUtwardly we would say “we are good!!!” But in my heart, I can’t help but think of all the other children out there without families to care for them. If God puts it on our hearts and puts us again in the position to adopt, we would say YES. Our life is not our own. We truly believe this. When God calls us…..we will answer.

Finally…..a few pics!

Top 10 FAQs (Part 1)

Amy and I often are asked a ton of different questions about the adoption, our life before, and our life after. Since I’m so transparently open with…well….just about everything, often to my wife’s chagrin, I try to answer these questions. I get it. Adoption is not a usual path for most people, so our story is kind of a human interest, fascinating slice of life people are curious about. This is all good to me. Since many of my readers never interact with me, I thought I’d throw out some questions we are most often asked. I’ll do ten for now (in two posts), but I’ll encourage anyone out there with any other questions to comment or email me and I’ll see about doing another post answering just those questions, if any come in. So…here we go!

  1. Are These All Your Children?
    Most of the time we are asked this by unsuspecting strangers when we venture out and about. Families of ten with eight kids are a little unusual and Duggar-ish. What they’re really asking is, “did you give birth to all of these kids??” We smile and say YES they’re all ours! But, I usually set people at ease by telling them Amy didn’t have to birth them all since four are adopted. I’ve learned there are basically two philosophies about this. Some adoptive parents NEVER want to talk about their kids being adopted. They work very hard to hind this fact and pretend everyone is biological. I understand that….unless of course they’re a different color or nationality with opposite features than their parents. Like, your kids know they don’t look like you!! The other philosophy, and the one to which we subscribe, is to be honest about who our kids are and where they came from. Now our kids remember, so it’s not a shock to them. So when asked this question, we answer  YES they all belong to us. They are siblings (don’t we know it!) and we are parents to all of them. We don’t treat any of them different than any other – other than trying to work within each personality, etc. I get why other parents choose the other philosophy and I’m not saying one is better than the other. This is just what we’ve chosen and it works for us.
  2. How Long Did The Adoption Take?
    People generally lead with this question because it’s not super personal. The answer is we found the kids in June of 2014 and came home with them in July of 2015. There were a couple of delays we experienced with Poland’s process or we would have been home sooner. Originally, we thought we would be home around April of 2015. But the timing was actually perfect for us to be later in the year. Poland required a 6 week stay in country. For us it ended up being closer to seven weeks, plus the one week we spent for our first trip to meet the children in April of 2015. So all in all, we spent over 50 days in Poland.
    Now the process differs greatly country to country – even in Eastern Europe. Poland has one of the more stringent processes and they are very careful with their orphans. We appreciated this and understand the thoughts behind it. There is A LOT of waiting in the adoption process. News comes slowly and there is much space between reports/contact or fresh information. We stayed busy writing grant applications, preparing (like you would for a newborn) to have eight kids instead of four, and trying to learn as much as we could about Poland.
    Truthfully, I wish I had slowed down and enjoyed the journey a little more than I did. I was anxious and wanted to get going. But even when things moved, I wish I had relaxed and taken in the full experience. I now encourage adoptive parents to relax, let it be what it is, and enjoy every second of the journey. You only get to do it once!!
  3. Was It Expensive? OR How Much Did They Cost?
    This is the question many people want to ask but feel awkward asking! If you ask this question of an adoptive family in the wrong way, you may get backlash! We did not purchase our children. They are not a commodity. We are not traffickers. We paid fees to our agency, the US Government, and the Polish Government to cover adoption costs, administrative costs, and more in the care of orphans. We also paid for airfare, food, lodging, passports, visas, doctor visits, and a million other things we’ve already forgotten about – like the delicious ice cream in Gdansk, or the carriage ride in Krakow. The actual adoption fees were around $25,000 paid to our agency and the Polish Government (paid through the agency). Probably another $1500-$2500 in immigration fees to bring our children back to the US as citizens. The rest was travel. Two trips, one of those for six people going and ten returning can be very expensive! Plus lodging, food, and transportation for seven weeks adds up, even though Poland is quite a reasonably priced country in which to live. The exchange rate was/is 4 zloty to 1 dollar so your money stretches pretty far. Our cost of living in Poland was around $3500 per month for everything. Altogether we spent between $45K and $50K.
    The VERY BEST money spent was through our agency to provide the liaison who worked with us in Poland. Grace was an absolute gem!! She worked tirelessly before we arrived and throughout our whole time in country. We simply could not have done it without her. We are honored to maintain a relationship with her. My daughter and I were able to connect with her again in Krakow last summer as we flew through for a mission’s trip. We are glad to count Grace as a friend!!
  4. What Do You Drive? A Bus?
    Well, kinda.  We drive a church van.
    For real.
    For the first year we drove a 2008 GMC Yukon. We found a company in California which makes a seat for the cargo space of SUVs and Minivans. We purchased one of theses seats for our Yukon. It worked fine for us, but it took all of our cargo space. We used a hitch rack for luggage and we did all the grocery shopping separately. This did not work for us. Driving home from vacation last fall, with stuff piled literally everywhere on everyone we decided we needed to look into a new solution. There are only a few options when looking for something which seats 10 people but still has space for luggage and cargo. We ended up with a 2016 Ford Transit. Ford makes several different models of this van from 8 passenger to 15 passenger. We really liked the 10 passenger. Lots of interior space for my long-legged children and cargo space in the back for groceries and luggage. It’s a little utilitarian and doesn’t have the bells and whistles of my Yukon, but it works for what we need. Honestly, though, Amy and I are looking forward to going back to a Yukon or the like in about 10 years!
    There are a couple other options we looked at….the Nissan NVP and the Mercedes Sprinter. Both of these are more expensive and ultimately that was the determining factor. If money had not been a factor (and the Transits are still pretty expensive), we probably would have bought a Nissan NVP. More SUV like, more creature comforts, but a little less interior space. There’s always a trade off.
  5. Why Poland?
    This is probably the second most asked question after “are these all yours?” The short answer is, this is where the kids were located. When we found the kids on Rainbow Kids website, they just happened to be in Poland. Had they been in Bulgaria, or Ukraine, or Hungary, we would have adopted from there. I think this is kind of how the Lord does it. He matches adoptive families with the children. Where they’re located isn’t as important – at least it wasn’t to us.
    The long(er) answer is this. Amy and I had traveled to Eastern Europe to work with the Roma people the two previous summers. We fell in love with these people and continue to work with missionaries to bring the Gospel to them in Eastern Europe today. When we began to really look into adopting, we decided Eastern Europe was the place. No specific country, just Eastern Europe. We honestly thought we’d adopt a couple of Roma children. They are by far the most available race in Europe. In October of 2013 we seriously considered a brother and sister from Bulgaria, but it just wasn’t right. It made sense but we knew this wasn’t the plan of the Lord. His ways are different than ours. When we found the children and began inquiring about them, they just happened to be from Poland. Now, we love Poland and follow the happenings there.

There you have part one! I’ll post part two in a couple of days. If you have questions you’ve always wanted to ask, please don’t hesitate to send them along. I’ll answer them either in a blog post or privately depending on the nature of the question. Just know, if you’re in process, we’re glad to share with you and provide any info we can!!!

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

    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

    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.

  5. photo-sep-30-11-20-04-am

    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!!!!!


    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.
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.


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.


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?
    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?


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.