I realize now that when we first brought our children home I had an undefined but deeply felt and well-meant desire. However, I have also realized that my desire was not exactly what God had in mind. Let me explain. I wanted our adopted children be so loved, so secure, so encompassed in the life and culture of our family and our story, that they would come to a point where they never felt different or separate from us. I didn't want them to feel like they didn't fit in or that they were somehow "other." I wanted the sadness and torment of their story to be absorbed in the love of our story. I wanted the pain of their pasts to be erased by the power of healing love.
But trying to lose the one story in the beauty of the other creates an invisible barrier that works to separate, which is the complete opposite of what I desired! It wars against the spirit of adoption which does not erase any of our pasts, but rather uses the past as part of the redemptive story of love. And that redemption my friends is the freedom that propels us all into our destinies!
As our children have grown up (they are now 21, 21, 23, 24, 25, 25, 27. 3 by birth, 4 by adoption) I have realized that God has not asked me to be an author/writer of my children’s stories. He doesn’t require me to heal or cover up or redeem their stories—that was His to do!
His plan for me, and for them, is so much better!
So, what is my role then? I have asked this question countless times over the past 16 years of adoptive parenting.
And I have discovered that He has given me the a different role, one that invites me to fully embrace my child as I co-labor with Him in the transformation of an orphan into a true son or daughter. That is the story of adoption, both theirs and mine.
So, I have been learning to be:
- A Caretaker
I have the privilege of caring for and nurturing their story. As a caretaker I cannot ignore or neglect my chid’s past. Rather, I get to discover, along with them, the nature of this unique garden that is their life, filled with plants both exotic and unfamiliar. I have the honor of helping them discover the beauty of it, and make sense of the unfamiliar and even the unknown. I have sensed the Lord telling me to embrace each child fully, including their pasts.
As my children have gone through the process of trying discover who they are, I realize that they are longing for me to see them. Really see them. See that they are, in fact, different from me. They are looking to me to see if I will approve, accept, and celebrate them as Russian, as members of a different culture and a different family. This has been tricky for me because there are parts of their stories by no fault of their own that are not honorable, not worthy of celebration—things like rejection, abuse, addiction, prostitution, murder, abandonment. But you know what I have discovered? There is always much to celebrate in each story. So I honor what is honorable. And I care for the details, the good, the bad and the ugly.
- A Curator
I select the content to be presented at the appropriate time, and to the appropriate audience. We have been intentional to search out all the details that we could find, collecting anything about their story and their birth families, so that when the time came we would be able to help. Part of the role of a curator is fact-finding. To me it is an expression of love to be a keeper of this information. Interestingly, some of our children have wanted, even needed to know details, and some have not—at lest not yet. Depending on their age and their maturity, we release parts of the story we feel they are ready to see. This “time-release” issue is huge and I have found that prayer has been such a gift in discerning the right time to share. I have also discovered that simply asking my child if he/she wants to know more has been helpful. I may not be able to find out more, or I may discern that more information would best be kept for a later time, but even so by asking I am able to help my child recognize that there is a story that belongs to him/her and that I am here to help.
In the early years the telling is easier, as we withhold the uglier and more painful details of the story. But as our children grow older, their questions also mature. They will wonder about motives, about fault. They will go over their story with the inquisitive eyes, seeking to make sense of the facts they know, and to fill in the details they don’t know. And my role in this process is, in part, to gather information and then release it.
- A Truth-Teller
For we wonder, wouldn’t it be nicer, kinder, more loving to keep the uglier parts of their story hidden? Our desire to protect is so strong. Isn’t that what good mamas do?
Truth telling is scary I have found. What if the information is too much for him? What if she is not ready to receive it? What if they lash out in their pain?
I have learned that as much as I would like to cover over, sugar coat or lie about these things, there very well may be a time when my child needs to know the facts. And so often the facts, even the darkest and most appalling facts, are less frightening than the fear of the unknown and what-ifs that often manifest in what looks like anger, hatred, rebellion or opposition, but is in actual fact simply deep-rooted fear.
In reality, I can't actually cover up what they already know in the depth of their souls. But I can speak words of life and sonship, hope and forgiveness, understanding and compassion, into those dark places.
So I have learned not to try to fix it —or them, but rather just be a presence of love, life, and hope in the complexities of their story, always ready to lead them up and out into the beautiful open spaces of sonship, redemption and destiny in Jesus.
I’ve learned not to let fear of the negatives that I know, or fear of all the frightening possibilities that I don’t know, intimidate me from this important role in my child’s life.
- A Story-Teller
Recently I heard someone give this excellent advice: Don’t get stuck in the subplots.
As our adopted children take in, process, and make sense of the facts of their story, I get to be one who helps them shape the narrative. I have realized that although I am not the author of their story, God has given me the amazing opportunity to offer language and perspective that places my child’s story in the context of His story, the grand telling of a love so powerful that it redeems us all! My words to and over my child help them interpret the facts of their narrative, which is such a key in the teen and young adult years. Weave hope and destiny into the words you speak. Over time they will begin to see themselves defined by that, rather than by their past. By SONSHIP rather than ORPHAN. By BELOVED rather than REJECTED.
I find that it helps in this process to ask, what is the story Father is telling about my child? And how can I help connect their subplot and mine to His glorious story?
And I have found that I am empowered with courage to embrace what is hard in my child’s story when I tell it in the context of love and honor, and in the safety of God's overarching grand story.
I look for ways in the telling of the story to speak to my child’s true identity, acknowledging the past, but speaking to the possibilities of the future. Asking questions with my child, and offering possibilities in the face of the missing pieces of their story has really helped me in this story-telling role. “I wonder what that must have felt like for you?” or “Maybe your mother was so so sad when that happened.” I like questions because they allow me to come alongside my child and connect with them where they need it most.
Maybe you also have been discovering your role in your child’s story. I would love to hear what you are learning. For how wonderful is this dear friends: the story is not over yet—theirs and mine and yours!!
I feel like I can not end this post without saying that all 4 of our adopted children have had seasons where they have pushed me away from their stories, or tried to deny any connection at all with their pasts and the residue of relinquishment in their thinking, emotions and relationships. I have heard quite a few times, “The way I deal with that is that I just don’t think about it.”
And so I wait. I pray. I speak life. I stay emotionally connected, so that when the time comes that they are ready to “go there,” I am ready to go with them.
What a beautiful gift the Father has given us to participate in His story of redemptive love!