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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.