Monday, November 17, 2014

Six Things Not to Say to an Adoptive Parent

I recently posted a blog that I have been working on for some time. It took me a while to write it because I wanted to be sure it accurately conveyed my heart but was honest about something that it seems is lacking in the adoption community. I wrote it knowing that I was opening myself up for criticism, but I felt like God was prompting me to post it so I held my breath and hit “Post”.

And I’m so glad I did.

Because turns out there are a lot of families out there walking this path and when I posted it, it was like I came upon an oasis in this desert land. A place where other families were drinking deep from the Living Water who is our strength on this journey and for those without strength to kneel down, they brought a cup to them and said, “Here. This will give you hope”. Within a week I got dozens of e-mails of people sharing their stories of struggle and hope and faith and joy and tears and questions about their precious and dearly loved adopted children who are struggling for various reasons. Some on the brink of giving up. Others who have been fighting this battle much longer than me. Others with victories to share.

So many moms and dads commented and wrote me saying, “We are together in this! God is faithful! Stay strong!” Wow, what a blessing for the Body of Christ to step up and without judgement say words of hope and healing. I was left crying and praising and praying many times throughout the week. So humbling.

“Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs it down, but a good word cheers it up.” Proverb 12.25

Aaaannnndddd I also got several not-so-nice comments, too. Which is fine! God used those to help me see the full spectrum of this thing. So many people DON’T understand the trails that the special needs of a child can bring a family. Honestly, if I hadn’t experienced this trial myself, I would probably be pretty critical and skeptical, too.

And it led me to this post. Here are six things that I can say, at least for myself as an adoptive parent, that we don’t need to hear:

What Not to Say: “You need parenting classes.”

This one was sort of random to me, but I thought I would mention it because, let’s be honest, that’s rarely a nice to say to someone. I know there are “parenting classes” out there and fantastic ministries that focus on the challenges and joys of parenting. And don’t we all need tips and advice on how to navigate these parenting waters?? The truth is it can be a doozy no matter your child’s bloodline! I know I personally read blogs often about parenting and they are many times convicting and enlightening, challenging and encouraging as my husband and I strive to raise our kids to know and love the Lord. Buuuuuut when someone is sharing a parenting trial and reaching out for community, they likely know already that they don’t have all the answers. If they did, they wouldn’t be posting, right?

A Better Thing To Say: “Here are some things that have worked for our family.”

If you genuinely feel that someone needs some help in their parenting techniques or approaches, it would be more productive to offer up what has worked for your family. Maybe it would work for theirs as well. Or, maybe just recognize that they have weaknesses and need some encouraging words.

“There is one who speaks rashly, like a piercing sword; but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” Proverbs 12.18

What Not to Say: "You deserve it."

This was probably the harshest of the negative comments.

There were a few people with this remark actually (which really surprised me) but one in particular stood out. Her words were actually, “Because you purchased a child from overseas. You treated yourself to a thrill. You knew it was wrong, didn't give a damn and did it anyways. 
It's kind of awesome to see selfish baby buyers getting exactly what they deserve.”

I assume the anonymous commenter has had a poor experience with the international adoption system as they made reference to people “buying” their children from overseas. She went on to say she had three that she adopted from the US (for which I assume she didn’t have to pay any money for the process). Perhaps they have had or have heard of first hand experiences with some of the terribly corrupt practices in the adoption system. I do not have personal experience, but I have heard stories of people making profits off of the “business” of adoption and even people taking healthy newborns from loving families to “sell” to adoption organizations. This is so tragic that I don’t have words and I pray and have no doubt that there are good people on the inside of the system who are fighting hard for reform. It is a messed up world we live in, folks.

However, to tell an adoptive parent that they “deserve” the trials that the special needs of a child brings because they paid various costs in order to bring that child into their family is no more fair than to tell a family who has a biological child with special needs that they “deserve” it. Adoptive parents do not feel “entitled” to a child. Every loving parent desires for their child to grow up healthy, strong, and well adjusted regardless of their bloodline and when that doesn’t happen for one reason or another it is HARD. It is hard to watch your child suffer and to not understand how to communicate in the right way with that child. Reactive Attachment Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Anxiety Disorders, etc. are very real and can wreak havoc on the lives of those who have it and their families. Support is needed.

A Better Thing to Say: “I don’t understand your pain, but I will commit to pray for you and your family.”

I would never presume to know the depths of pain that families who have children with terminal illnesses face. I have never personally experienced that. But I can have compassion and pray for God’s hope and healing, peace and strength. In the same way, if you have never experienced life with a child who has special emotional or psychological needs, you won’t be able to understand all the dynamics. So, hold your judgement and pray. God does know and understand and He can bring hope and healing. 

“Now finally, all of you should be like-minded and sympathetic, should love believers, and be compassionate and humble.” 1 Peter 3.8

What Not to Say: “You shouldn’t point out all the negative things about adoption. There are so many kids out there that need families and you are going to scare people out of adopting!”

That would be like saying, “Don’t tell people that marriage can be challenging! You will scare people out of getting married!” Let’s just shoot straight here. You could talk to a couple that is in love all day long about the difficulties that marriage can bring and they are going to smile and nod right through your conversation and on their way to pick out wedding cakes.

If someone feels called to adopt, they are no less going to allow the knowledge of potential challenges deter them than they are the mountains of paperwork and years of waiting. What actually more likely to happen is that they will be better prepared for the trials that may (or may not!) come there way. I wish someone would have told me!! Granted, I’m glad I didn’t know the DETAILS, but no one knows those but God anyway. It would have just been nice to know that it’s not all unicorns and rainbows like the pictures and stories make you think.

We have books about marriage and conferences about marriage and blogs about marriage because it can be complicated. It shouldn’t be far fetched to have the same type of encouragement and support for struggling adoptive parents.

A Better Thing to Say: “Thanks for balancing out the realities of adoption. It can certainly be overwhelming and challenging. Praise God that He is bigger than all of our trials, though!”

Amen and amen!! He IS so much bigger! That is the hope we have and some days that’s the only thing that keeps us going. It’s good to be reminded of it often.

“Bright eyes cheer the heart; good news strengthens the bones.” Proverbs 15.30

What Not to Say: “You just need to learn what unconditional love is.”

Whew, YES! Don’t we all?? I will be the first to admit that 1 Corinthians 13 is a challenge for me. “Love is patient.” Failed at that one today when my son spilled another glass of water. “Love is kind.” Yep, another mess up when the day was ending and my kids were stretching my last ounce of patience. “Love does not act improperly.” Yikes. We won’t even go there.

Unconditional love is a tough one, y’all. We are human after all. But that is exactly what we are striving for, right? To love the Lord our God with all our hearts and to love our Neighbor (husband, children, friends, family) as ourselves. Love, love, love. It’s all about love!

So simple yet so… hard. We are selfish by nature. But as Christ followers, it is in us to desire to love. And therefore we long to love our special needs adopted children unconditionally. The struggle comes when—surprise!—that love is rejected over and over. But as I walk this journey, I am learning more and more about how truly amazing and miraculous it is that the God of the UNIVERSE would love me—an awful, terrible sinner—so much that He gave His Son to die in my place and that even now—now that I know who He is and His great love—He loves me when I reject Him and ignore Him. WOW! He is THE perfect example of how we are to love the unloveable. So, YES! We do need to learn what unconditional love is. We ALL do!

A Better Thing to Say: “We are all unloveable at times. Keep fighting the good fight and remember God’s unconditional love for us. I pray your child one day sees Christ’s love through you.”

Whew. When I hear those words it is both a great reminder and like a healing balm to my soul! Yes, I am so unloveable, but God loves me! Because of that I can show that same love to my child and trust that God will open her eyes to the beauty that it is. Amazing.

"We love because He first loved us." 1 John 4.19

What Not to Say: “You should have adopted for the right reasons.”

Honestly, I don’t really know what the “wrong” reasons to adopt are, but I’m assuming it would be to impress people? To take cute family photos? To have a little variety in your family’s skin color? I don’t know. If any of those were the reason you adopted then, yes, you definitely should have adopted for the right reasons! But I don’t know a single adoptive family that didn’t adopt out of genuine love for the Lord and for their child. (Not saying they aren’t out there, just that I don’t personally know them.)

To tell this to a parent who is struggling with the reality of their adopted child’s special needs would be like telling a parent struggling with the reality of their biological child’s special needs that they should have gotten pregnant for the right reasons.


I will say again, no parent wants to see their child suffer. No parent wants to struggle every day to connect and watch their child reject love.

We often hear on the one hand that adoptive parents are expected to love their adopted children in the same way they love their biological children (and they should!) but when it comes to admitting to difficulties adopted children sometimes face, it’s taboo, though often not so with biological children. It’s a little unbalanced, I’d say.

A Better Thing to Say: Probably nothing at all.

Instead, maybe research some of the very real emotional and psychological issues that adopted children (and in turn adoptive families) face.

Things like Reactive Attachment Disorder and Post TraumaticStress Disorder which are both very common in adopted children. By doing a little research, you may be able to better understand and gain compassion for these children and families.

“Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” James 1.27

What Not to Say: “You are just self-righteous/entitled/egocentric.”

I have a friend who has a biological child who has classic RAD symptoms. Let’s pretend for a moment that she wrote this same exact blog about her daughter that she carried in her womb for 9 months, gave birth to, and raised from day one yet has shared with me many of the emotional trials this child has brought.

Would you say that she has a feeling of entitlement because she longs to relate to and understand her daughter and love her effectively and grieves that she can’t? Would you say she was self-righteous because she recognizes the internal battle that her daughter faces with building walls to protect herself emotionally, knowing all the while as her mom that she doesn’t need to? Would you consider it egocentric that she wishes differently for her family?

My guess is probably not.  So I offer up the idea that neither is it for an adoptive parent.

A Better Thing to Say: Gonna go with “Nothing at all” on this one, too.

If you genuinely feel that way in your heart, you miiiiiight want to examine and see if perhaps you aren’t the one with a self-righteousness issue. We all have battles. We all have sin that we fight daily.

Don’t judge someone else because their struggle looks different from your own.

“The one without sin among you should be the first to throw a stone at her.” –Jesus

The Bottom Line:

“And the tongue is a fire. The tongue, a world of unrighteousness, is placed among the parts of our bodies; it pollutes the whole body, sets the course of life on fire, and is set on fire by hell…. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men who are made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things should not be this way.” James 3.6, 7b-10

Easy killer. Reel it in. If we truly call ourselves Christ followers, then we are to “carry one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6.2) and to “[speak] to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music to the Lord in your heart”. It’s hard to do those things when we are tearing one another down and lacking compassion.

It’s easy to post an anonymous, hateful post (which all but one of these were anonymous) and then carry on with your day feeling justified in your remarks. But it’s also easy to forget that there are real life people on the other side of the screen. I highly doubt you would speak face to face that way with someone (at least I hope not, wow!)

To everyone who shared your stories and wrote words full of life and encouragement, thank you!! We are in this together and it is so much sweeter when the Body of Christ rallies around to carry the load.

(PS Congratulations if you made it to the end of this very long post! Feel free to comment. If you disagree with any part of what I said, I’d love to hear from you as long as it is written respectfully with the intent to understand one another. All hateful comments will be deleted because, well... ain’t nobody got time for dat.)

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Thankful Thursday: Unexpected Community

(This Thankful Thursday post is a little early, but I gotta post when I have internet!)

I’ve cried a lot over the last few days. And I’m not a crier, y’all.

It all started on Monday when I felt led to finally post something about our adoption and the struggle it has been. I read it and re-read it. I hesitated. I prayed about it. And I did it.

I had no idea what the result would be but I braced myself for criticism. My words were transparent, hard, and that’s not always well received.

Instead, I got an immense outpouring of love and understanding. I literally couldn’t keep up with my inbox for the e-mails and comments on my blog. I’ve never experienced anything like that before and it made me cry to think that there is a whole big community out there of people who are walking this same road, fighting hard for these kiddos that we love so much but feel overwhelmed with the day to day battles.

To all who read and heard and understood and spoke words of hope and healing or who shared your story and your struggle, you blessed me immensely. You thanked me, but I thank YOU!

To the few who read and didn’t get it but felt led to comment anyway, I hear you, too. I didn’t get it either. I still don’t most days. But God is faithful!

To the adoptees who spoke out, thank you. Your words are necessary to this story. You are our heart in this, after all. If my words hurt, I am sorry. The reality is I was not adopted as a child so I do not understand your perspective, but oh how I want to! I want to hear from you. I want to learn from you. Please be patient with us as we learn and we will strive to do the same.

To the one who suggested that saying to stop romanticizing adoption would be like saying to stop romanticizing marriage, I hear what you say. But what I’m trying say is that marriage is beautiful, but we still have marriage conferences and blogs and books about the difficulties it can and often does bring. Let’s do the same for us adoptive families who are struggling in this fight to help our kids see and feel this love we have. If you want to defend the kids (and praise God you do!), reinforce the parents.  Admitting that marriage can be hard and addressing those issues does not keep others from getting married and I know that those who are called to adopt will no more let this hinder them than the mountains of paperwork and years of waiting. It will just help them be better prepared for the potential challenges ahead.

To the one who said they are “worried” about me, thank you for your concern. I’ve worried about me, too! But God is good and His grace is sufficient. Thank you for offering the resource suggestions. I will definitely look into those! I’m always open to suggestions and learning and growing on this journey that all too often seems like too much. I don’t have all the answers, I just have the one: Jesus. And oh how good He is!!

To the one who said I sounded self-righteous, oh how God knows that is not true. The times are innumerable that I have cried out to God and told Him he picked the wrong person for this job because I am so broken myself. I am filthy rags outside of the grace of God and I need His new mercy every morning. Please choose your words carefully, friend. I appreciate that you are knowledgeable but I pray our knowledge will never cloud our words of love and compassion. Knowledge without love is useless (1 Corinthians 13.2). Yes, this journey has been incredibly lonely (we live in the Amazon Jungle!) but God is ever present and meets our every need. That’s the beauty of grace that He can use sinners like my husband and myself to speak truth into the life of this precious child of ours. This was me reaching out for the community that you suggest and God in all His great goodness has provided it.

To the one who referenced their adopted child as “store-bought”, I respectfully had to delete your comment. It was offensive to several adoptees who were reading the comments and that is the last thing we want.

To the commenter who referenced me as “original poster” and said I made a mistake talking about the hard, hi, my name is Ashley and I am your sister in Christ. Let’s choose our words carefully and remember that just because we can’t see each other’s faces, there are real people on the other side of that screen. I actually had to re-read my post because I thought maybe I had missed something in there because your words were so intense. We live six houses away from the house where my daughter suffered all kinds of abuse and we see her biological parents and her abusers on a regular basis. I feel your hurt for your oldest who still remembers her mother, friend, and I understand. We’re in this together so let’s build one another up. We’re on the same team.

If you commented, I want you to know I prayed for you. Each and every one. I went name by name, even those who were anonymous (that were many) and I prayed specifically for you. That’s all I know to do at this point. Maybe God is up to something much bigger?

To all who e-mailed, I will respond!! The internet here is hit or miss, so it may take some time. Thank you for sharing your stories. They have given me a breath of fresh air on this journey and I am forever grateful!

God is so good. I feel like I’ve just come upon an oasis in this desert and now I’m surrounded by other families drinking in deep from the Living Water.

This journey just got a little more beautiful.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Ugly Side of Adoption

If you find yourself encouraged, follow my new blog at for more posts like this one.

I found this entry the other day while randomly flipping through an old journal:

“January 2, 2013

Today, sort of in passing and sort of without even realizing it, I prayed a prayer.

‘Do something great through me… No matter what it takes.’

I meant it when I prayed it, but my next thought was: ‘Uh-oh.’”

Dear Ashley from almost two years ago: that next thought was very appropriate.

You see we used to have the “ideal” family. I'll never forget when I was pregnant the second time and we found out we were having a girl and how perfect that was for us. We had our boy and now our girl to complete the balance. Two little picture-perfect blonde haired, blue-eyed beauties.

We always talked about bringing another child into the family down the road. Maybe adopt from Africa or Asia, a newborn who needed a home. We could do that in a few years, no problem.

I did not anticipate that later that same year we would move to a little town called Benjamin Constant and that shortly thereafter, when Raegan was just 4 months old, we would meet a little brown-eyed girl that would rewrite everything we knew about parenthood and ourselves. I will never forget the night I laid there in bed and told Richard I felt like we should pray about adopting her.

I had no idea--not the slightest clue--what I was praying for.

I remember discussing the challenges we knew we would face. The language barrier, the physical and mental delays, the criticism from the locals; we knew it would be difficult.

Those things now seem like child's play.

When you hear people talk about adoption, you hear about how beautiful it is, this Gospel picture. I say it myself. The idea of redeeming a child from pain and suffering and hopelessness is undeniably inviting. To be a part of bringing hope and life to a child is one of our callings as followers of Christ. Beautiful indeed.

What we do not hear a whole lot about, however, is the ugly side.

Without tragedy, there is no need for adoption. If something were not broken, there would be no need to fix it.

If it were not for the fact that something went terribly wrong, adoption would not be necessary. Be it death or abuse or abandonment, intentional or otherwise, there is a tragic reason this child is in need of a different family from the one that shares the same bloodline and facial features. There is a broken past with every single adopted child out there and it leaves a mark. Sometimes that mark is a faded scar that is barely noticeable to the untrained eye.

Other times, it is a gaping flesh wound that needs constant attention and care.

God chose to give us the latter.

And it has been ugly.

Because nothing prepares you for having to hold down that sought after child as she kicks and screams, “I want to go back to the street!!” And all because you are doing what no one else in her life ever has: you are loving her.

I will never forget googling “What if I don’t like my adopted daughter” and the relief I felt when articles actually popped up, announcing that these feeling of mine are actually common.

In August, she completed one year in our home—and the single hardest year of our life. I look back at the child who stepped into our home that Friday night. Her scalp was so full of infection that the doctors prescribed four different medications to heal it. Her teeth were little pieces of black and brown bone jutting from her infected gums. Her hair was brittle and orange in color from lack of nutrition. Her eyes were wild, pupils enlarged as she tried to understand what was happening, her body conditioned to remain in a constant state of fight or flight. She carried her small backpack full of dirty, hole-ridden clothing that a person would not even consider donating to Goodwill.

This isn’t what it should look like, a family bringing in another. It should be that her biological mother tucks her in at night, along with her 7 biological siblings, assuring them of love and care. They should laugh together and go on outings together and she should know the love of a family with siblings and parents that look like her, speak like her. She should know the value of discipline and should be taught consequence.

But we live in a fallen world where parents leave their own to roam the streets because they never knew any different themselves.

So our life as we knew it was destroyed that day. It was destroyed for the sake of redeeming this one. But we never knew what that would entail.

It has been painful.

No adoption is pain free. I am not referring to the hours spent at the courthouse or the paperwork that seems insurmountable. I do not mean the waiting game of home visits and Psychologist appointments.

Those are the easy parts, my friends.

The hard part is loving. And that is the part I never anticipated.

Shortly after our daughter moved in, the giddiness of having a new child wore off. It was like having a newborn to care for except that this newborn had been in survival mode for six and half years and thought she had a better idea than you of what she needed. The lies began and the manipulation commenced and suddenly, after just three months of having what now felt like a stranger in our home, we began to recoil.

“What have we done?” I would ask myself, remembering our “perfect” family of four.

I would scroll through my Facebook newsfeed and the pictures of perfect families would dance across my screen, almost taunting me. I would close the app feeling guilt, regret, confusion. Pain.

I often say if we had known what we were getting into before we got into it, we wouldn’t have gotten into it. And I know that is exactly why God does not often reveal His plans for us, because we would run away in fear of the trials that lie before us, not valuing the refining process that makes us a just a little more like Him.

Yesterday I looked at her as she sat across the table from me, unaware of my thoughts. Her hair is dark brown now and shines in the light. Her teeth, bright white and clean. We have had to buy her new shoes three times this year as her body catches up to the size it should be for her age. She is able to read now, something we had all but given up hope on as she didn’t know the difference between a letter and a number this time last year.

She is beautiful on the outside—a whitewashed wall.

Because you don’t raise yourself on the street for six and a half years with no consequence. So the lies and manipulation and disobedience flow so naturally to her that at times she doesn’t even perceive it. She resists our love. She has yet to grasp the fact that she no longer has to protect herself; she is safe here. So she hides behind the walls she built so long ago of self-preservation and self-focus and replaces each brick as we attempt to take them down.

There is a common perception out there that implies that adoption, because it is a concept based on the Gospel and because it is redeeming a child from their orphan status, is simple. Of course, we may be quick to admit that the process is complicated. The attorney and the judge and the biological parents or the orphanage and the paperwork and the waiting and the waiting and the waiting… that part is hard, but then—THEN—it’s smooth sailing.

“All we need is love.” Right?

Adoption is far from simple.

I see heart-warming adoption quotes on social media all the time, especially in this month of November that is National Adoption Awareness Month. In fact, not long ago I stumbled across my own “Adoption” board on my Pinterest that coincidentally I created about the same time that journal entry was written and couldn’t help but laugh out loud and what my picture of adoption looked like back then. Back before the long nights and tears and confusion and calling out to God.

Because once the Facebook pictures are posted and the excitement dies down over this new addition, you find yourself face to face alone with a reality that you did not stop to consider before:

Yes, the Gospel is a picture of adoption into the family of Christ. And the Gospel includes immense amounts of suffering. Without death, there is no redemption. Without pain, there is no joy in victory.

Over a year has passed now and mostly we are thankful that we have survived. In the beginning, all day, every day was consumed with teaching truth and consequence, faith and repentance, and trying to discern the truth from the lies. And now most days are still that way but they have become graciously spaced out to where sometimes we actually feel like a functioning family of five on some level or another.

Grace from Heaven.

Why do I say all this? Not for a pity party, I assure you. We are taught to rejoice in our sufferings because it is through them that we are formed more into the image of our Savior.

I say it, believe it or not, as an encouragement. I have read several blog posts and books this past year and the ones that encouraged me most were the ones that said something to this effect, ‘This adoption thing? It’s hard. You are going to fail at times. You are going to cry and ask ‘why?’, possibly often. You are going to feel overwhelmed. And guess what: sometimes you are going to struggle to love. But it is ok because you, on your own, can’t love anyway. It is impossible. But the good news is that through Christ, you can love unconditionally and without reciprocation. Hang in there. His mercy is new every day. And His grace is sufficient.’

So to my fellow adoptive parents, who find themselves overwhelmed and overcome and cringe when they see the idealized photos of adoption: do not give up. God has a purpose for this child and part of it is to refine you and teach you what unconditional love really looks like—messy. Another part—maybe the biggest—is to give you the slightest glimpse of the pain that Christ went through and the miracle it is that He can love us as He does. Oh, the miracle.

To those in the adoption process, do not let this discourage you, but also don’t write me off. There is a certain naivety in every new adoption. I know, I have been there and I believe that is also God’s grace measured out to us. Often God keeps us blinded to the realities of the trials we will face in order to grow our faith. It is necessary. “Oh, but you adopted an older child/out of birth order/foreign speaker. I’m adopting a newborn/young child/English speaker,” you may say. Irrelevant my friends. I know personal stories of children adopted from birth that have immense struggles. So listen to those who have gone before and prepare your hearts. Pray for God to prepare you in ways that you do not even realize that you need to be prepared. Pray for faith and endurance. Pray for peace and hope. You will need all of these as you embark on this journey.

For those who are reading this and have had a “smooth” attachment to your adopted child, hold your judgment. Instead of casting stones, throw up some prayers for those who adopted the more severely injured, those struggling to love, and those who dread another day. Be careful not to become self-righteous because your experience looks different. Rejoice that God chose to give you a child with less baggage in tow.

This adoption thing is ugly. It takes time for broken things to mend. It takes time for wounds to heal.
But you know what’s amazing about it all?

He gives beauty for ashes. And that, my friends, is beautiful indeed.

{UPDATE: You can read my follow up blog The Ugly Side of Me}

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