Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Biological Child's Perspective on Adoption: Emma

We wanted to share some of the stories of adoption from the point of view of the children, both biological and adopted. It has been fascinating and faith-building to hear them tell their own stories of life from their perspective. The third in this series is from our eldest, Emma, who is a lovely and amazing young woman soon to graduate from college.

Emma's Story
I could not wait to travel to Russia
Emma, Rachel and Julia
before adoptions
When my parents first talked to my sisters and me about adopting, it came out of nowhere. As a 12 year old I had never even thought about adoption, positively or negatively, in my entire life. But as soon as I took a moment to consider the possibility, I was ecstatic about opening our family to two new members. I also could not wait to travel to Russia and learn the language and culture. Of course there were many cultural differences; I remember ordering spaghetti with marinara sauce at a restaurant and getting a plate of pasta with a gravy boat full of ketchup next to it. 

Andrei, Emma and Sergei in the
children's home
The driver asked if we could pick up a little boy                                                               One of my favorite memories of going to Russia for the first time was meeting my future brothers, Andrei and Sergei. On our way to the orphanage to meet Kristina and Pasha, our driver asked if we could stop at a foster home to pick up a little boy who was being sent to the orphanage to be with his older brother. Though we were distraught at the idea of taking two children away from the orphanage only to bring another, we of course said yes. This little boy was my brother Sergei. When we arrived and were ushered into a small room with tea and cookies, Andrei was already there, waiting to see his brother. As soon as they laid eyes on each other, I could feel the joy and relief they felt. For the remainder of our visit, they did not stop hugging or smiling.

And then they were 5
Retaining some stability was important to me                                                                        Once we all returned home, I started to get to know my new siblings better. Pasha and I watched The Lion King together over and over, always returning to the stampede, his favorite scene. He would sprint around our house on all fours like a lion until he broke his leg after falling off his bike. Then he just ran around on three legs, with his broken cast lifted in the air. Kristina and I shared a room and bonded over her incredibly loud and annoying gerbil named Mary. No matter how many times she woke us up scratching at her cage during the night, Mary remained a permanent fixture in our room. Of course there were hard times, but within weeks I couldn't imagine sitting around our kitchen table for dinner without Kristina and Pasha, and eventually Andrei and Sergei as well. I found it very easy to adjust to my new life; I was and still am the oldest child, and my only concern about adoption was that I would have to give that up. I'm sure I would've grown to love an older sibling as well, but retaining some stability (and the ability to boss people around) was important to me.
Emma and our friend Nicole with
some new Russian

Seeing the world from a different perspective
Our group in Russia,
Through our adoption, I have grown so much spiritually and intellectually. I am a Political Science major at college now, focusing on international politics, and growing up aware and involved in the world outside my bubble played a huge part in that decision. I think I have become a much more well-rounded and aware person because of traveling to Russia, meeting and getting know people I never would have known, and seeing the world from completely different perspectives than my own.

Emma (standing) with others from
our team ministering in the

 The Amazing Love of Christ
However, seeing the transformation of our kids prompted even greater spiritual growth inside of me. A picture is worth a thousand words as the old cliche says, and one of the most moving pictures I have ever seen is my sister Kristina's first passport picture.

Our Kristina's passport
 She and my parents went to some sort of embassy in Moscow to obtain her Russian passport so she could travel to the US with us and become a part of our family. That picture shows a girl with haunted, empty eyes and a blank expression. She looks so lost and hollow. But through the love of my parents, my siblings, and most of all the Lord she came to know so well, Kristina's smile has become one of the largest and brightest I have ever seen. She laughs with her entire body, and her eyes sparkle with the knowledge that Jesus loves her and has adopted her into his family forever. Her transformation is the clearest picture of the amazing love of Christ I have ever seen, and I am so happy to have been there to see it happen.
Kristina's senior portrait

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Part I: Connection Versus Correction?

Part 1: Connection versus Correction?
I have just returned from a Colorado conference called 'Empowered to Connect,' where I had the huge gift of learning from Dr. Karyn Purvis, Director of the Institute for Child Development at Texas Christian University, from her 12 years of developmental research on the needs and approaches to healing adopted and foster children.  
It was so striking to me to learn that often as parents we have our priorities flipped upside down:  we spend 80% of our time on correction (the red!), 10% on empowerment (meals/school/chores the yellow!), and 10% of connection (the green).  It is like a triangle trying to balance itself on its tip - it just won't work!  The child, like the triangle, just can't stand on a foundation of correction.  All those 'no's and 'stop's' and 'don'ts' just pile on the discouragement and wear down the spirit.

Instead, we need to flip the triangle and exchange the correction for the connection - no matter how impossible their behavior is!  In this model the triangle sits flat on its base, with the green (go!) at the bottom as a huge foundation.  No matter whether they are babies, toddlers, elementary age, teens, or young adults, connection is what is needed.  So...just how can we connect?  More on this in part 2!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Singing In Prison

Singing in Prison When you, Lord, are my home, prison is not disturbing. I can even sing there late into the night because "You have been my dwelling place -- [my home] -- in all generations (Ps 90:1)." This means for my generation and for the generation of my children, biologic, adopted, spiritual. When I am living in You as my home, I feel Your shelter, its comforts and protection and even beautifully inspiring arquitectural design, and I rest in that place under Your shade! "She who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. (Ps 91:1)" Oh my amazing Friend, how refreshing for me to live as a mother of 10 under the shadow of the One who has "all might" -- all power, to do in and for and through and in spite of them-- all I long for but am not equipped to effect. And as I am "holding fast to You in love," You "answer" me for my children and You are "with me" in their trouble (Ps 91:15). This is so supernaturally true and real, that even in the prison of their suffering, my praise to You shakes the foundations of their chains of pain, and miraculously, "everyone's bonds are unfastened." It is, in my experience today, as with Paul and Silas, "about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God and the prisoners were listening to them and suddenly there was a great earthquake so that the foundations [of pain and lies and hopelessness] of [their] prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors [of healing and truth and hope] were opened and everyone's bonds were unfastened." (Acts 17:25-26). This is our prayer of our Home today Lord, for ourselves and for our children. You are amaaaazing!!! - Submitted by Susan Hillis

Friday, April 1, 2011

An Adopted Child's Foundations

Parenting Children You Don’t Know
            I vividly remember being overwhelmed at the strange reality of parenting children I didn’t know. I had not really anticipated how bizarre it would feel to have a mother’s love, and I mean real love, for a child living in our home who was a virtual stranger. How strange if felt to parent a stranger!

Faulty Foundations
            One of the issues Stephen and I faced early on in the adoptions of our older children was the reality that foundations had already been laid in their lives. And these were foundations laid haphazardly, not by loving parents intentionally building life-long values, rather they were structures formed by a child’s need for survival, by coping skills developed for self-protection, by ways of thinking formed in the chaos of lack. And then there were the giant holes where no foundation had been laid at all. Holes where unconditional love should have been, where tender memories that are the currency of deep relationships should have been, where a strong and stable identity should have been.

Fixing the Issues
        The way this issue of faulty foundations looked “where the rubber meets the road,” (that is, the way it looked in our home) was at first confusing and disturbing for me. I’m the kind of parent who likes to deal with issues right away, and deal with them until they are fixed. That approach has some serious weaknesses I came to find out! When you are loving and parenting a child whose behavior and way of seeing life has been formed by lack, or by orphanage codes of conduct, you are up against far more problems that need fixing than is possible to change in the first months or even years of life together. And remember, we are talking about behaviors that often stem from deep foundational realities.   

Be in This for the Long Haul                                                                                                        One of the things the Lord told me early on after our first adoption was this, “You need to be in this for the long haul.”  This is exactly what I heard Him say. I have come to appreciate this simple word from God over the years because it has freed us to be patient, to believe God for the deep deep foundational work that He is doing in our children's lives, knowing that He is aware of the years passing. Stephen and I came to realize that if we were to address every bad behavior each time it occurred, then our relationship with our children would be almost solely marked by the negative: pointing out what is wrong and requiring change, with very little room for fun and love and approval. 

 A Picture From God                                                                                                                       One day I felt the Lord speak to me about my frustration in having to let some bad behaviors go for the time being. I would love to share with you what He said to me. It gave us such freedom and also released a deeper compassion for our children, even in their worst behaviors. Often God speaks in pictures, and this is how He spoke to me.   
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               He showed me in my mind’s eye a building, but the part I was seeing was the foundations under the building. I saw that there were these taller columns that were clearly full of holes, ragged in places, crooked and weak. And as I examined these I thought, “this isn’t good at all. There is no way these columns will be able to sustain this building for any significant period of time.” Then I realized that amidst the faulty foundations, even right up next to them, were these shorter columns that were in the process of being built. They were clearly well-made, strong, able to take the weight of a large building without strain, however they were not tall enough yet to reach the actual structure. 

What is God Up To?                                                                                                                               I felt the Holy Spirit show me that this was a picture of what He was up to in our children’s lives. The buildings sitting on the weak columns were the lives of our precious adopted children. They could not live good lives on these faulty foundations, but I saw God’s tender mercy and His beautiful love for them in the actual presence of these crooked columns. I realized that if we were to destroy these columns before the new ones we were building got tall enough to reach their lives, until they became something that our children could put the weight of their lives on, then we would, in effect, destroy the child while in the process of destroying the foundations. I became assured in my spirit that these bad foundations would come down in time, but also realized that we mustn’t go in with a parenting wrecking ball.

Yet, He Loves Us So
        I cannot express how freeing this was for us, for me in particular. We needed to allow some things to pass without “fixing” them. This was not poor parenting, but rather very intentional on our part. As I contemplated the picture God showed me, it became clear to me how God has treated me. How, looking back on my life, God never required me to change all that needed changing at once. How there are things I did and thought in the past that I never even knew at the time needed changing, yet He loved me so.

Over the years we have seen the solid, whole foundations replace the weak ones. We have watched as our children have tried out the new foundations, testing them to see if they actually work. Then, on occasion we have watched them try to go back to the familiar old foundations. As those began to crumble under them, causing them all sorts of trouble, they would choose to trust these newer columns, placing the whole of their weight on them and enjoying the security and safety they provide.

May we all "be in this for the long haul," always building strong foundations as we love and parent these precious ones.