Sunday, December 9, 2012


Recently I have found myself thinking quite a bit more about the pasts of our children who have come into our family through adoption. Ironically, the facts of our children's pasts, along with the resulting issues, both positive and negative, seem to be more present in our present, not less, as the years have gone by.  It would seem to me that the opposite would be true-- that the longer our children are home, the more distant the impact and influence of their past. And in some ways this has been true. But in some ways those key questions of identity that are the stuff of adolescence and young adulthood have taken us back to a season not unlike those early days after our adoptions, where we are especially aware of the impact of the our children's past experiences in their lives, in their thinking, in their actions, and in their beliefs. 

It seems to me that the past is not a non-issue, that one of our roles as parents is to help our children navigate the often complicated emotions and other residue from the things they experienced, and equally as influential, the things they did not experience before they came into our families. And having understanding of how our children are experiencing these realities, helping them to understand why they might think, feel or act in certain ways, has been so helpful to Stephen and me. I am thankful for the freedom we have to embrace each child's story, their whole story, as we help them come to their own decisions about who they are and how they will process their often harsh and painful origins. I use the word freedom because apart from the freedom that we have in Christ, who is the great redeemer of all things broken and stolen, I think I would have tried to ignore and cover over and deny all the hardships of our children's pasts, simply out of my desire to protect them and to help them move forward.

Over the years it has been tempting to "wish away" the past, hoping that the goodness of the present would override it somehow. Tempting or not, that simply does not work. For it is a gift we give our children to share with them in their story, even the most difficult parts. For most of us the instinct is always to protect our children from pain by avoiding it or covering it over, but what if protection in this case looks more like embracing and accepting? At some point many of our children will need to know even the most difficult parts of their story, and we parents want to be the ones to tell them and to walk with them through the process of grieving and the swirling emotions as they struggle to process their story. 

Let me show you a picture of a tree that Stephen and I saw last week when we were away. (we went to Santa Fe-- just the two of us! It was so refreshing to have that time together!)
You can't see very well from this distance; this tree doesn't look particularly interesting, until you look closer. Now take a look at the close up of the trunk:

This was a large tree that had been cut down to a stump years ago. I am sure that there were no expectations of this tree once it had been cut down. But how cool is this?! Out of that dead stump came a whole new tree-- a really great tree. I see that God, in His great wisdom and goodness, is doing a similar work in our children. He is not allowing us to ignore the past, but rather is using what seems like a dead stump to call forth new life-- He is continuing the story without wasting one thing! Only God does such amazing things! For it is true my friends, He is busy working ALL THINGS together for the good of our precious children. (Romans 8:28)

We are watching and co-laboring with Father God as He is doing a "new thing" (Isaiah 43:19) in our children's lives through adoption. This is a privilege beyond measure. We parents get front row seats in this interactive drama where new things spring forth; where a past marked by rejection, pain, sin, abandonment, relinquishment, neglect, fear, and lack does not determine a future, but is miraculously transformed and re-purposed for LIFE.  

I have always liked the analogy of driving a car that Susan Hillis shared with me years ago, as she and I have spent many hours talking and praying about how to parent our children into their future, according to their Identity and Destiny, rather than in response to their past. 

Stephen and I have had to teach 7 teenagers how to drive, and I am not kidding when I say that this is one of the worst parts of parenting for me-- nothing like giving a moody teen a lethal weapon! One of the things we teach them is the importance of the rear view mirror. Until you teach someone to drive, you probably don't realize how many times you take a quick glance back to what is behind you as you navigate forward. But that right there my friends is the key-- you only glance back! Yes, you do it often and it is a key to successfully moving forward, but if we were to focus our eyes backward, rather than forward, we would never make it to our destination. 

So, as we parent our children our eyes are always focused on the future, on our child's Identity and Destiny. We Parent Forward. However, we recognize that their past is not something to be ignored, and is as a matter of fact, a key component in the call of God on their lives and on their unique identity. So we glance back as needed. And something I would add on that we have been learning recently is that occasionally a child may need to pull the car over so to speak, get out and spend some time exploring what lies behind. And when that happens dear parent, you get right out with him or her, link one arm with your son or daughter and the other arm with the Holy Spirit, and walk right alongside. And the best thing we can do for our child on this excursion is to keep our focus always on the Lord and His forward-moving, life-giving, past-redeeming plans and promises. 

Father, would you help us to simultaneously embrace our child's whole story while keeping our eyes firmly focused forward into their Identity and Destiny in You. Thank you for your redemption of all that has been stolen or lost in our child's past. Cause them to be that beautiful tree, a planting of the Lord! Amen.

(Susan Tebos and Carissa Woodwyk's book, Before You Were Mine; Discovering Your Adopted Child's Life Story, is very helpful in helping adoptive parents embrace their child's whole story. Great practical ideas and wonderful focus on the Lord.)


  1. Beth, beautifully written from your heart and experiences. So amazed by the tree that was once cut down and left to die and then was given a second chance to do what it was made to do. From extreme need to flourishing. Only God!


    1. It was a cool tree, Susan! THank you for your kind words! It is such a gift to watch God's love poured out on our children in our homes!