Thursday, June 28, 2012


Often the most simple things of daily life communicate the deeper things in our hearts. I know that the importance of family dinners is not a new topic to most, but maybe you are like me and the reminders serve as an antidote to the strong pull of busy schedules. I find that when we are not intentional about family time in our home, we can go for days without having that connection. For the last few Christmas seasons I have sent out emails to all seven of our children with a list of possible dates and activities, asking them to choose and set aside those times so that we would be sure to have time together as a family. With the majority of our children away at college, this has worked well. But back in the day when we were all living at home we also had to be intentional. Here are some reasons and ideas for enjoying the benefits of family dinner times.

(As an aside, I feel that it is important to say that I have no desire at all for this post to come across as yet another thing you should be doing to be a good parent. Some of you have not had a family dinner in a long time, but you are connecting with your children in other real and significant ways. Maybe the family that has amazing dinnertimes does not have lengthy bedtime traditions, or regular "dates" with each child, or yearly weekends away..... The list can go on and on and on of all the good things we could be doing. I don't know about you, but there is simply NO WAY Stephen and I could implement all the great parenting ideas we have read about over the years! So, please know that at Hope at Home we never want to leave you feeling burdened or like a failure. We hope that this post, and any other thoughts we bring about parenting, will be helpful to you and leave you filled with Hope for your Home.)

A full dinner table, including cousins!

Atmosphere-- Not Just for Romance!

There is something about the smell of food cooking that speaks to us. Even the smell of broccoli steaming says something-- more than "ewwwww!" I hear the smell of dinner cooking saying, 
"you are loved. you are safe. you are cared for."
Family dinners do far more than provide food for your children. They help to create an atmosphere in your home. I try to light candles when we sit down to dinner, and even while I'm preparing, because I find that, like the smells, it communicates a sense of being special. It may seem strange if you associate candle light only with the occasional romantic dinner, but give it a try and see if you don't notice a difference. Grab your iPod and put on some music. Without words you are saying, 
"you are special. our family is special. our time together is special."
Consistent dinner times (yes, even the nights when there is more bickering than not!) foster feelings of warmth, unity, and bonding. With adoptive and foster families this is no small thing. In fact, I would say carving out time to carve that roast is a major tool in your ongoing work of bonding and the integration of your adopted or foster child into the complex mix of ingredients that make up your family. That sense of belonging, being a significant part of a whole, is key.

Relationship-- Conversation and Windows

One of the main reasons statistics show that consistent family meal times are beneficial for children, teens included, is because it serves as the context for authentic relationship. In between the, "pass the potatoes," and the "I hate green beans," are ideal times to connect. We have some talkers in our family, and we have the quiet types as well. So having a plan to guide the conversation can sometimes be helpful. For a season we used Monday night dinner time as an opportunity for everyone to share something that God has shown them in the last week. We kept it very broad-- it could be anything from a profound encounter during worship to a bible memory verse or something learned in children's church or youth group. Other nights we would go around the table and share one good thing and one hard thing that happened that day, or two things we are thankful for. Really, anything that will illicit a response and some interaction within the family is great. And be sure that both parents share too. Telling about a difficult situation at work is an effective way to help your children begin to understand your adult world. The goal is to share our lives with each other-- simple and quite powerful! This interaction gives us a window into our children's worlds as well. It get's us past the, "how was school sweetie?-- 'Good'" kind of thing. 

Training-- Imparting Vision and Identity

Once we have everyone all in one place it seems the best time for imparting some of the goodness of God into our children. Along with many other great ideas, we copied the Hillis family and would often have a book to read aloud as a family. Dinner time worked best for us, so Stephen or I would read a chapter from a biography of a Christian ( The Heavenly Man was our favorite), or a devotional type book, or scripture of course. Often I would find just a section of a book that I thought would be of interest and helpful, rather than feeling like we needed to read from beginning to end. When our children first came home from Russia we had to keep it short, but being flexible is part of family life already, isn't it?! These times together have served as a kind of anchor for our children, especially important in the teen years. 

There are a lot of other wonderful opportunities waiting for you at the dinner table-- the teaching of manners and social skills being no small thing, especially if you have children who grew up in an orphanage!! You are in a sense placing a deposit into your child's bank of emotional and spiritual stability. Definitely worth the effort!

So, next time your kids ask, "What's for dinner?!" you can respond, "Just a slice of love, a pinch of bonding, a dollop of relationship, and a spoonful of identity."  YUMMY!

Would you take the time to share some of your family's dinner time successes? What are some good conversation starters we could borrow from you? We love it when you leave a comment!!

Monday, June 25, 2012


You may remember Brad Aldrich's post, Retreat Alone to Advancing Together from a couple of months ago. Well now you get to hear from his wife, Kate. Both Kate and Brad write and speak on all things marriage. In 2009 they followed God’s prompting and founded One Flesh Marriage Ministries, a blog based on their marriage journey and God’s word in Ephesians 5. Brad is a Pennsylvania Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and the director of the Family Resource and Counseling Centers. Kate is a homeschooling mom and a family photographer in her free time. God has given Brad and Kate three amazing blessings, two biological and one adopted who have enriched their life and marriage. 

Summer is finally here and the kids are done with school and I find myself thinking, “Oh good, now I have extra time to catch up and get things done.  Perhaps even do some of my “wish” list.”   Suddenly, I start to actually look at the summer schedule and wonder why every year I seem to think there will be more time during the summer???  Seriously, what was I thinking?  Between extra activities, play dates with friends, and vacations--there really are no lazy days of summer!  
For those of you who don’t know me, I am a stay at home mom, we homeschool our three kids and I am also a portrait photographer in my free time.  I am as busy as every mom out there.  But the summer that I thought would bring reprieve and extra time to accomplish things, is quickly becoming busier then the school year.  
I LOVE this time of year, truly I do!  There is so much fun to be had and memories to be made, yet in the busyness of it all, I feel and see myself start to struggle.  I have seen some patterns start to inch their way back to the surface of my life.  Past habits that I would rather not revisit.  Yet, despite all of this, I feel them tugging and tugging until I give in and let them dominate my personality and attitude.  I think in these fun, exciting, stressful, and busy times old habits come back to us so easily.  
When stress and busy times start to take a hold of me, old habits resurface, threatening to put my “self” at the center of everything.  We all have past habits and patterns that we struggle with.  For some of us, they rear their ugly heads when we are bored, for others it is when life is busy.  Are old habits vying for your attention this summer season?  If so, how? 
To be clear, I am talking about habits in our personalities that we have discovered to be stumbling blocks or unhealthy.  I am not speaking for those who struggle with addictive habits.  

Own it and Admit it to Your Spouse

Just recently I took a few minutes to share with Brad where I am struggling.  He listened and then shared that he could see that I was struggling as well.  Not in a condemning way at all, but supporting me and acknowledging that he understands where I am coming from.  Sharing it all with Brad was like literally getting a weight off of my chest.  Satan takes pride in having these things keep us bound up.  Bringing light into the darkness of our struggle’s, makes the darkness flee!  Take some time to share with your spouse where you are struggling.  There may be times where you will need to ask forgiveness from your spouse or others.  Be open and honest. 

Ask For Help

Brad knows me like no one else.  He also is my biggest fan and encourager.  He wants to see that I am happy, healthy and that I experience the life God has in store for me.  Asking him to help me turn these patterns back around is a wise thing to do.  Not only does it get him involved giving me accountability, but it also speaks volumes to our spouse about how much we need them.  We weren’t meant to do life alone, hence God’s awesome plan for marriage.

Be Prepared to Do Some Changing

This is the tough part!  When we see something in ourselves that we need to change, we have to be willing to do what we need to, to change!  It is a hard thing.  Seeking God on our knees, receiving forgiveness as well as asking God to lead us in changing these things.  Prayer and more prayer.  Get into God’s word, read and listen, perhaps more than your daily reading.  If we try to change these things with our own strength, we will always fall short.  With God’s leading, we can find freedom and grace.  God can give you the strength and tools you need to change.
As I was feeling convicted with my own attitude and old habits, I felt God asking me to share with you.  I am far from perfect or having life and marriage figured out.  Yet, I do know that I want to be the best “me” that I can be.  I want to be the person God created me to be!  I know in my heart when I am off balance.  As we look forward to the fun summer times with our families it is as good a time as any to work those kinks out!
I know there are other things we can do when we feel old habits coming the surface.  If you have other ideas, we would love to hear them!  Share with us your thoughts in the comment section.  

You will have the opportunity to hear more from Kate at HOPE AT HOME 2012-- be sure to register! She and Brad, along with Jenni and Scott Means, will be leading two breakout sessions on marriage entitled, "Adoption Through the Eyes of Marriage" and "A Marriage Made in Heaven: Pursuing a Kingdom Culture at Home." In addition Kate and Brad will lead a session on Transracial Adoption called, "The Joys of Godly Diversity - Reflections from a Transracial Family." 
To read more about our breakout topics go HERE.

Thursday, June 21, 2012


Lots of you know me (Susan Hillis) from the conferences and Facebook and email messages we share.  But few of you know my husband...  

To Contribute

I remember it as though it was yesterday.  Brian and I were sitting in our living room in our little farm house on Farrington Road in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and a dear friend Annie from his UNC Master's Degree program was visiting us. At that time, we did not share a common faith, and she had many questions.  Like this one, for example, "So, Brian, how does your faith affect your goals in life?"
Brian, without batting an eye, replies something to this effect, "My goal in life is to contribute."
Annie asks, confused, "To contribute?...what do you mean, 'to contribute?'"
"I mean I want to contribute to making life better for my wife and for our children."
I had no idea during those brief moments the extremes of sacrificial service and unconditional love my unassuming and humble husband was prepared to give.  But now I do, and I want to tell you a little about it.  And about what it sometimes leads to.  I want to tell you because some of you share that goal of Brian's.  I will end this short post showing you some of what happened because Brian made that decision way back then....and stuck to in, day out.

To Sacrifice

After loving numbers so much (though we are polar opposites on every personality inventory, at least we have a love of numbers in common!) that he passed all parts of the CPA exam on the first try, Brian went to work for a high-powered accounting firm.  

Over time as we sensed the Lord calling us to adopt (many children!), it was clear that it would take a full time parent to be available in order for the adoption to bring them fully into our family, not merely into our surname.  In talking and praying, we felt we would have more net time together as a family with me working full time than with the long hours that accounting work requires, so Brian cut back to part time at first (after adopting Anya and Alex and adding them to our other two, Cristi and Trevor!), and then totally quit working with the accounting firm after we adopted the next time.  

Gone were those interesting challenges and professional rewards, to be replaced by normal things parents do every day, like play with kids, tutor them, run car pool, take 10 different kids to 10 different activities every week....harp lessons, piano lessons, soccer practice, baseball practice, softball practice, art lessons, flute lessons, dancing lessons, wrestling practice -- and last but not least, to talk with them about God and life and relationships and forgiveness and hope...and lizards and frogs and oaks and seahorses and drought and physics and Bach and Monet.  Brian chose to respond to a higher calling than his professional one -- the call of the Lord for our family.  And boy, did he ever 'contribute!'

A Son's Words -  Alex and Sasha
So several days ago on Father's Day, two of our adopted sons (and in fact all of our kids through either letters, texts, or calls) said thank you to Brian.  

Our artist son Sasha communicated a lot while writing a little, in a short text from Alaska:

Happy Father's Day, dad.  I wish you a great day, and want to thank you for living your life in obedience to God's will, like that of Noah who lived a God-loving and fearing life, living by example, leading his family towards God's love, His truth and mercy, no matter how big and problematic circumstances might have been.

Our son Alex, who, with Trevor, is doing a Summer Leadership Project in Florida, wrote Brian a long letter.  Here are a few excerpts:

Today is Father's Day.  A day set aside to remind us how great and amazing fathers are to us...  Dad, I know you care little for a lot of sentimental praise, so I will limit my words of praise by saying I have known many fine fathers, and have read about many great men, yet I can truthfully say I am so blessed and so thankful that I am your son.  There are several reasons why I am glad you are my father. First you made my years of childhood and youth a period of life delightful.  I have really enjoyed just learning and watching you, how you have loved all the kids.,,,even on days when some of them treat you like crap.  ...I don't know how you loved all of us with unconditional love, but thank you.  You have been the best example to me of who Jesus Christ is.  I can't even imagine how wonderful God is, because you are so good.  If you are that great, God is just awesome.  Thank you again.  Second I want to thank you for helping me understand what it means to be a man.  ..what I am sure of is that if I am half the man you are, I will be grateful and happy.  You are truly a blessing in my life....I would not trade you for the world.  I love you!...Lastly I want to thank you for teaching me about God.  .... My relationship with God is so much closer because I can see through you the kind of man you can become, and I want that.  ....Well dad, I told you this was going to be short, but it came out of my heart and I meant every word....Thank you so much for sacrificing your life for me.  I hope one day I can sacrifice my life for you.  I love you!  Happy Father's Day.
My prayer for you dear reader
So now, I pray that that you, dear one who is reading this and who have adopted children or fostered them or who will someday adopt or foster children, or who perhaps are loving these or any other children in sacrificial and unconditional ways, will receive the heart-full gift of words on one of the Father's Days or Mother's Days down the road.  Words better than any present.  The unspeakable reward that becomes the present that makes you cry.

Monday, June 18, 2012


With summer in full swing we know that the hours of the day can seem to stretch out, and stretch and stretch ooouuuut.................. The children are at home and the schedules of the school year are over-- what to do with all those hours and all that energy?! Susan Hillis found a way to spend summer days with her large family of energetic children and we wanted to share this post with you again as you look for ways to enjoy your summer at home.

From Susan Hillis:

I spent many years at home with kids, having a desire to help them daily to avoid the self-indulgence embodied by our culture, and instead to replace it with the Lord's beauty and values.  So every day I would say something like this to start off the day, "Today we are going to do something for our eyes, something for our hands, something for our hearts, something for our brains, and something for our bodies." We actually had a poster where the kids had helped me draw 2 eyes, 2 hands, a simple heart, a wrinkly brain, and a stick figure body.  Often we would have a board of some kind and check off our activity when we had completed it.
Here are some examples of the kinds of things we did every day with this 5-fingered ingredients to a good day!


"God gave us our eyes to see the beauty of His creation.  Let's go on a walk to see how many colors of flowers we can see (spring), or how many shapes of leaves we can pick up (fall), or how many sizes of acorns we can find (winter), or how many different kinds of bugs we see (summer)."  One May when some of the kids were out looking for bugs, Alex came home with a beautiful black spider, intrigued by the 'red squiggles on its stomach', and complaining of a swollen thumb where it had bitten him.  He proudly help up the spider in the bag, and we realized to our chagrin, that it was a black widow!  We called poison control and were told just to watch him - and he ened up being fine!  In spite of several of these types of extremes, we loved thinking together about this question, "Hey guys, what can we do for our eyes today?" 


"God gave us hands to draw and color and play games and paint and play instruments.  We also need our hands to make yummy food and to eat with! Let's do something fun with our hands today." Then we would draw or color or paint or sculpt or make home-made playdough or play home-made oatmeal-can drums.  Sometimes we would make cards for each other or send a picture to a sick friend.  Sometimes we would eat spaghetti with our hands or mix up squishy cookie dough with our fingers.  Sometimes we would play simple games like CandyLand with our hands. 


"God loves us a ton. More than we can imagine.  It is amazing that he says if we do just 2 things, we will have a good life, one that makes us happy and God  happy. The first one is this: He tells us, 'love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and strength and mind, and the second one God tells us to love your neighbor as much as you love yourself. Today lets talk about what we could do to show love to God or someone else."  We might decide to go visit someone lonely and take them a picture, or we might go serve at a food pantry, or we might sing some praise songs together or read a Bible story or act out a story like Daniel in the lion's den. One memorable day we went on a walk around the block to visit a 92 year old woman. We found her stooped in her nicely manicured lawn, cutting a few pieces of grass with scissors. "Hello, we thought we might visit with you a little while."  She invites us in, "I always liked girls better than boys," she says, looking intently at our son and daughter.  Then she proceeds, "I am  so glad to be out of that hell-hole."  I proceeded to ask her what she meant.  This is what she called the nursing home she had been confined to temporarily when she broke her hip. Needless to say, once we left, I had some new lessons to teach about God's view of girls and boys being both His favorites! About how hard life can become for old people. About how proud I was of them for showing God's love. And we talked about how our hearts feel when we show love to someone. "Warm  inside." "My heart feels happy."


"God gives people a brain that can do things that none of the animals can do. Like math. Like thinking about complicated questions. Like creating and using words.  When we use our brains to learn about God's world, we can serve Him in ways that are so very special. Let's talk about what we want to learn about this week."  If it was the week of the black widow, we may learn about spiders.  If we had been painting the night sky, I might pull out Van Gogh's 'Starry Night' and teach them a little about Van Gogh as a man and as an artist. 


"God gave us bodies that enjoy moving and exercising and jumping and running. He says He made our body to be the place He lives inside of, with His Holy Spirit.  In the Bible we learn that our body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. Let's talk about what we can do to keep our bodies in good shape today."  We might run or skip or do dance exercises or swim or hike or play four-square or basketball.  If it was rainy we sometimes would go to a gym to run around. Or sometimes we would put on old clothes and go sliding into mud puddles. One memorable day our neighbors had a huge 12 foot long, 3 foot wide puddle.  We decided it would be so fun to pretend it was a slippy pool slide - so we ran outside to play.  Before I knew it lots of the bored neighbor kids had joined us! I did not quite know what to say, when, after getting cleaned up, I ran into one of the neighbor kid's moms and she began to complain about how crazy her kids had been that day - sliding in the mud and rain of all things!  I was too embarrassed to tell her it was my idea!
So, often the posts I offer are more thoughtful, devotional, or testimonial.  Today I just wanted to share the structure that was the under-girding foundation for so many wonderful conversations about God and life and the world and beauty, and that at the same time laid down scores of fun memories!
God bless each of you!

Share the things you do at home with your children in the comment section. Let's help each other out!
Happy Summer!!

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Thursday, June 14, 2012


Recently I wrote a post about Fighting, and now I'm talking about Destruction. You are probably getting a bit concerned! But just like the post on fighting was about the Good fight of faith that we are called to fight on our child's behalf, this post is about the Beauty that can be found in destruction. 

 There is no one like the God of Jeshurun, who rides the heavens to help you... The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms; He will thrust out the enemy from before you, and will say, “DESTROY!” Then Israel shall dwell in safety... Who is like you, a people saved by the Lord! The shield of your help and the sword of your majesty! Your enemies shall submit to you, and you shall tread down their high places.Deuteronomy 33:26-29

Faces of the Enemy

Are you loving this as much as I am?! There are times as a parent when I see that I am called to take a stand and command destruction-- the destruction of those things that threaten to diminish the freedom that belongs to my child in Christ. Over the years since we first brought our children home we have seen the ugly face of the enemy revealed. An enemy that would take advantage of a precious child in a vulnerable position not of his own making, a child in need of a family and of safety and love. Maybe you have dealt with some of these faces of the enemy too in your home, an enemy whose expressed purpose is to steal, to kill and to destroy. (John 10:10) These faces look a lot like rejection, a victim mentality, fear, anxiety, a lack of healthy bonding. 

You know those verses in Psalms that speak of destruction of enemies? I used to be uncomfortable with those. They just didn't fit into my nice Christian world; I didn't relate. But I find myself quite comfortable with verses like "in your steadfast love you will cut off my enemies, and you will destroy all the adversaries of my soul" (143:12) these days. I see clearly now that it is indeed God's steadfast love that motivates the destruction of those things that attack my soul and oppose the work of God in our family-- in  my children. Oh yes, I am quite comfortable with this! Bring it on I say. I am not a theologian and my understanding of these things is limited, but I do find that when I read these verses and think of the enemies that so many orphans and adopted children face, I can add my Amen to the call for destruction.

Bring It On!

What I am so captivated with I think is that the enemy is not the only one bent on destruction; our Amazing Awesome God is the best destroyer ever! He is Radiant in Splendor and Majesty and the hills melt like wax before Him. (Psalm 97:5) Oh He is Mighty to Save, our Mighty Rock. Dear ones, maybe some of you are face to face with the results of the enemy's destruction as you are raising your child. There is good news for you and for me. God has not left us without recourse. He has given us weapons of destruction far more effective than any weapon the enemy has used or will use. 
And these weapons of destruction are strange in their effect--when we use them the result is nothing like the ugly wounds we would expect a weapon to leave. The result is a beautiful thing: wholeness, life, and health. This is a glorious destruction!

For the weapons of our warfare are not physical [weapons of flesh and blood], but they are mighty before God for the overthrow and destruction of strongholds, we demolish arguments and theories and reasonings and every proud and lofty thing that sets itself up against the [true] knowledge of God; and we lead every thought and purpose away captive into the obedience of Christ 2 Corinthians 10:4-5

Powerful Words of Life

Do you see these words of life? How like our God to turn something upside down and use it for His glorious purpose! Words like overthrow, destruction, demolish and captivity are turned on their heads. They morph from words that we associate with pain and trouble to become Words of Life, beautiful and powerful. 

So, I find that I am all about destruction these days. I join my voice in agreement with my Father God and proclaim, "DESTROY!" Will you join me?

Lord God, even now we shout destroy to the works of the enemy in our precious children's lives. We call for the destruction of everything that would raise itself up above the truth of Your Love at work in them and in our families. Thank You for the authority we have as believers and parents to release the Beautiful Destruction of all that is not of You in our homes. We set our children apart to live unhindered by any destruction that has come as the result of being relinquished, rejected, abandoned and unloved in their past. For indeed, who is like those who are saved by the Lord and who dwell in safety?! Let it be as You have said Lord God.

Wouldn't you like to join us at HOPE AT HOME 2012, 
October 5-6 in Atlanta, GA, where you will have many opportunities to join with other parents of faith to command the destruction of the work of the enemy in your child's life and to believe God for His amazing restoration work?!  We have a team of believers who are preparing and training to pray with you throughout the conference. I know for Stephen and me, being able to pray with others over some of the issues we have faced as adoptive parents has been a key in our parenting. 

Monday, June 11, 2012


From Susan Hillis:

Who we are

I got to be right beside our 2 little granddaughters this week end when their eyes saw and their toes touched the ocean for the very first time.  I love relaxing here at the beach and reflecting on the goodness and greatness of God.  So, dear friends, having just spent the early morning sitting with our daughter Cristi's baby, Elyse, and talking with her about her identity and destiny, I decided to pass the blessing I just gave her, on to you.  As usual, there is a story behind it!

About 4 years ago a godly man in his 70s visited our church. His reputation preceded him, as one who had memorized thousands of Scriptures, and loved giving biblical blessings to folks.  We had the chance to meet each other and he said he was passing on to me  

"The blessing of Benjamin,the beloved of the Lord dwells in safety. The High God surrounds him all the day and dwells between his shoulders."  
(Deuteronomy 33:12)
I thought, "that's weird, what in the world does 'dwell between his shoulders' mean?  I opted for being thankful for the safety part of the verse, and in a short span, it slipped out of my mind.  Until I read and reread it from time to time in my regular read-thru-Bible-in-a-year plan.  That small seed of encouragement, planted by someone I saw only once, in a brief encounter, has become a tall trunk of blessing in my life!  It is who I want to be, and trust that, in the Lord, I am becoming. It is who Elyse is and is becoming. 
It is who you are and are becoming.  "The High God dwells between his shoulders" means, for me, in those key centers of life...the mind, the heart, and the voice!  Because our brain, our heart, and our vocal chords are all 3, "between the shoulders."  As Jesus "puts his law into our minds and writes them in our hearts" (Heb 8) it is only natural that His words will find expression in our voices!

What we have

Copy cats. We have what that old man had. The living and active blessing and encouragement of God to pass on.  So I am trying to copy my dear friend Elizabeth Styffe who does this better than anyone I know.  I want to pass along encouragement to all those I meet.  It is what I have to give, ever and always.  It is what you have to give. "Encourage each other every day" (Heb 4:13).  It is one of the means the Lord uses to help us dwell in safety.  

For more encouragement along the adoption journey, Hope at Home 2012 is the place to be! Susan will be sharing in both main and breakout sessions. You will love to talk with Susan in person and hear her share more. Now the grandmother of two, one from a biological daughter and one from an adopted daughter, she has much wisdom and love to give.

Thursday, June 7, 2012


We want to introduce you to one of our Hope at Home friends, Amber Houser. Amber is the blogger behind Bumber’s Bumblings.  She is madly in love with God, her husband (Nate), son (“B”), and extended family. After months of trying to conceive turned into years, Amber shared in the isolation and devastation that so many women suffering from infertility experience—until she and Nate were led to open adoption and a magical, miraculous son. Amber is the founder of the Delaware Area Moms Through Adoption Group, has shared her adoption story in a documentary film, Unborn, by christian artist, Caitlin Jane, and has shared her open adoption story at many public adoption forums.

Our Desire to be Parents

Adoption is something that has always been close to my heart. It is something I grew up exposed to, through childhood friends that were adoptees or extended family members who have adopted.
Before we were married, my husband, Nate, and I had discussed that we would be open to adoption if we were not able to have biological children.  We happened to be one of those couples that experienced the heartbreaking reality of infertility.  After that shocking diagnosis  wore off, we felt God leading us towards adoption.  We didn’t feel like God was leading us to pursue invasive fertility procedures.  We took some time to grieve the loss of a dream of having biological children.  We had to come to the place where we realized our longing and desire to be parents was superior to having biological children. 

We felt God’s leading all along through the infertility process, opening and shutting doors. We could say that we were confident in His guiding and open to whatever way He chose to build our family.  Even with this attitude, we found it very difficult to start the adoption process. Much of that process is “taking the bull by the horns” in order for things to happen and progress, but we waited and stalled.

I Was Terrified of Domestic Adoption

Initially, I leaned toward international adoption. It seemed the most safe and predictable. Not to mention, I was pretty terrified of domestic adoption as a whole and thought it would be easier to avoid. You know, the whole being scared of the birth mom taking the baby back thing. That's when a friend, who had worked as a social worker for an agency, challenged me to just try to open my mind to the possibility of domestic infant adoption and not to blow it off so quickly.  She asked me to just pray about it.  Pray I did, with gritted teeth {I am NOT doing domestic adoption—I cannot handle it, kind of prayers}

Nate and I went to an adoption seminar with the agency we eventually chose.  During the seminar, three different adoption programs were highlighted: Domestic Infant, Foster to Adopt, and International. I felt even more overwhelmed at our options than before.  In contrast, Nate said he felt a pull towards the Domestic Infant program almost immediately.  He had always felt a pull towards local endeavors and missions.  This would make sense to him.  His thinking was, why not help someone right here in our area who needs parents and a home?  (Nothing against anyone that has chosen a different path, this is just where God’s leading took us.)  I was thankful that the Lord gave him that insight and was ready to follow Him and my husband.

Open Adoption-- Scary!

As part of our home study process, we had to read booksbooksbooks and more books.   The general theme throughout all these books goes back to open adoption.  Open adoption is a topic that is surreal, fearful and scary if you are not educated on the matter, and sometimes even if you are educated on it!  We started to understand the emotional and psychological positives for both the adoptee and the birth parent(s). Even though we were beginning to understand the textbook reasons, it was hard to conceptualize that personally.  It just sounded like something for crazy people.  How in the world could a situation like that work?
It wasn't until we sat through an all-day seminar with our agency that we finally started to understand it a little more.  We saw videos of birth moms speaking and even saw a "triad" (adoptive mom, birth mom, and teenage adoptee).  The triad forum was amazing and left us tearful and excited about the possibilities.  We left that session saying to each other, if our adoption slightly resembles that kind of unity and partnership and LOVE, we will be so blessed. 

Tentatively Chosen

When we received the call that we were tentatively chosen by an expectant mother, she was just four short weeks from her due date!  We met shortly after we found out that she had chosen us. You can read all about that meeting from B's birth mom's perspective here. The whole meeting was pretty amazing and full of God moments, as our whole adoption story is.  I won't elaborate on all the details, since she does a pretty good job of it, but I will share with you a little bit about our conversation relative to the openness of the adoption.

Only God!

After we spent quite a while with her and her family and totally fell in love with all of them {but especially her}, we broached the subject of openness.  Before the meeting, we received paperwork with her openness requests, and all she had requested was for pictures and updates throughout the first year and a visit around his first birthday.  During our conversation, my husband asked, with tears in his eyes, "aren't you going to want to see him more than that?” Her response was that she wanted any openness to be gauged by us, that this was the life that she was choosing for him and she didn't want to do anything to confuse or complicate his life.  Nate then said something like "I think we are going to want you in our lives; it's going to be important for him to know you and know the amazing sacrifice that you made to give him life and a future...and for him to know just how much he is loved and wanted."   This coming from a guy, who was weirded out by open adoption--Only God!

You can imagine what a bunch of blubbering fools we all were after that, especially me. 

We finally understood this whole open adoption thing.  And we wanted it for our lives. We didn't know exactly what it would look like after this, but we opened that door.  Our son was born several weeks early which was just SIX DAYS after that meeting, and a total of nine months in process.

Mutual Love and Respect for our Places in His Life

After we brought him home from the hospital, we started off by emailing with Ash back and forth about once a week. Our emails became pages long as we continued to get to know each other throughout the next few months.  We were itching for her to see him so she could see how beautiful and amazing he was, even though we sent lots of pics and videos!  And of course, she was itching to see us, but didn’t want to be presumptuous.  
We finally had our first post-placement meeting when B was three months old.  We planned to meet at her parent’s house for a Memorial Day luncheon, but ended up staying there the rest of the day.  They became an extended part of our family from there on out.  We exchanged cell numbers with Ash and started texting often and having more visits.  Three years later, and the relationship is stronger than ever. We don’t have a set schedule for visits.  We fit them in whenever we are able.   She and her family will attend some family events with us and we attend their family events when we are able.  There are no expectations or obligations, just a mutual love and respect for each of our places in B's life.   So many people have told us that it is such a wonderful thing that we are doing for her.  We feel the opposite.  We feel it’s a wonderful thing that she is the one that has done a wonderful thing for B and us.  

Bridging the Gap of Loss and Trauma

There are always going to be difficulties and loss in adoption on both sides, and we are not immune to that.  We hope that open adoption will bridge the gap of loss and trauma and heal all of our hearts. Nate and I are secure in our place as parents.  Ash has so graciously empowered us with that responsibility and is so careful to not overstep that boundary. We are truly thankful that she is in our lives and hope B will understand that some day.  We are thankful for God leading us to open adoption.  We are thankful that we did not allow fear to keep us from this opportunity.

We'd love for you to leave a comment with your experience or thoughts on open adoption. What have been the benefits? What are the challenges?

You might like to read (or reread!) this post by Nicol Crickett, Pregnancy of the Heart, as well. 

Don't forget to register for Hope at Home 2012 Conference for adoptive and foster parents!

Monday, June 4, 2012


From Susan Hillis:

Last night Jesus gave me a present.  For me it was a HUGE present!  Our son who just graduated from high school, Vasya (shown here in his graduation gown with his cross country team buddies), along with one of his good friends (who we LOVE by the way!) went with us to Passion City Church.  The message was about John 15, and focused on how MUCH Jesus loves us!  Jesus says, "Just as (much as ) the Father has loved me, I have loved you (that much)!"  Then Jesus says, "Remain in my love."  Re - main....meaning....'re', that is, 'again,' make it the 'main' thing in your life, over and over and over again, to stay right there in Jesus' love for you!  Then Louie Giglio went on to give some examples of how 're' - 'main' - ing in Jesus' love affects us in our simple daily lives.  He shared, "We get stuck in traffic, for example, and instead of saying, 'oh I had a horrible day;  I was stuck in traffic for an hour and then had to take a detour and then got stopped by a cop, and then finally made it to the gas station,' we may, instead, say, 'This was my day:  I got stuck in traffic and hour and then had to take a detour and then got stopped by a cop and when I got to the gas station there was this woman there at the pump, so clearly struggling, and I got to go over and ask her if I could help her in some way.  I ended up praying for her, and probably tonight she is sitting somewhere saying, 'even though I had a hard day I know Jesus loves me cause this fella I don't even know came over and prayed for me at the gas station.  Or it may be you get to pay for someone you don't know or help them in some other way.'  Then he went on to say it is exactly this kind of love, the love of God the Father for His son Jesus, that Jesus gives us to pass along to others in our day along the way.

The Present

So we are driving home and stop for supper at Steak-n-Shake, then go up to pay our bill.  The cashier, flustered, says, "there is some problem; this is crazy; it has never happened before; your bill isn't in the system. Let me get the manager."  As we wait, I say to Vasya and his friend, "I bet someone paid for us."  The manager comes over and unlocks the system, only to discover that a visa card had already paid for our bill.  Vasya at once knew who it was: "It was that old man with the white shirt and tie who came over and told us he and his wife had just been to a funeral!"  All 3 of us knew he was right!  So we began to talk about HOW AMAZING it was that just what we had heard, was exactly what had just happened to us.  Someone we had never seen before and will likely never see again had passed along Jesus love to us!  Then I proceed to explain to the cashier and manager, "Let me tell you what this is about!  We were just at church and hearing about the chances we have to pass Jesus' love along to people we don't even know, by things like stopping to pray for them or to even pay for their supper, and this is just what happened to us!"  The cashier, looking at me, said something like, "That had to be God cause people just don't pay for other peoples' dinner!"

Then we are driving home and there is a horrible 3 lane dead-still traffic jam on Highway 78 for at least 20 minutes, and we start giggling, "Oh, my goodness, we have BOTH the help from the stranger and the traffic jam!" I begin to wonder, "Lord, is there something we should be talking about?"  And I sense the answer is, "Yes, talk about what I have done for you and for your family, and offer to let Vasya's friend read the book about it."  We had a wonderful conversation and Vasya's friend said one of the nicest things to me that anyone has ever said, "When I met you I knew you loved God.  I want to have what you have.....and just think, by your adopting Vasya (with the idea from John 15 of 'bearing fruit' by loving others), that love has extended so much more to affect so many people, like me for example."

The Quote

So, why am I writing about something so personal?  Because I want you to know, dear friend and fellow-traveller--
 nothing you do for the Lord is ever done in vain!  
You may not hear a 'thank you' or even see the evidence of how the Lord is extending His love through you, but with time it will come, and your heart will melt with gratitude!  Wait for it in peace and hope. It is oh, so worth the wait!  It reminds me of one of my all-time favorite quotes by Amy Carmichael, missionary to India, who went expecting to evangelize the masses and instead, spent her life loving orphaned children.  She writes about her service and those of the other caretakers this way, 
"the women were learning that if the Lord of Glory took a towel and knelt on the floor to wash the dusty feet of His disciples, then no work, even the relentless and often messy routine of caring for squalling babies, is demeaning.  To offer it up to the Lord of Glory transforms it into a holy task."(Elizabeth Elliott, quoting Amy Carmichael in 'A Chance to Die,' p. 182).

So let me close with one of my favorite pictures (below) that illustrates what it means to 're-main' in Jesus, for Jesus to be the main thing in your life -- not your parenting, or your children's pain, or your  financial problems, or your infertility, or your relational struggles, or your own doubts about your worth, or your schedule, or your plans, or your past, or your failures, or your successes, or your service.  It is a picture I took one week ago in Mexico while on vacation with Vasya and his friend Andrei Templeton (above), to celebrate his graduation from high school!

The Picture

Yes, Lord, we thank you that You, Jesus, are the source of love's living water, like the underground river, unseen here but oh so present to the tips of the roots here in this picture.  And we want our lives to shout out the glory of Isaiah 37:31, "take root downward and bear fruit upward!"  May that eternal fruit of Jesus love, just bursting out above the surface of our lives, cause our children and many others to say, "I want what she has."  It was, in fact, this life with God that I saw in others that first drew me to our Lord.  It is, still, His life in me that will draw others to Him. Hallelujah, what a Savior!

Susan will be sharing more about the truths God has shown her, and is still showing her, at HOPE AT HOME 2012. REGISTRATION IS OPEN NOW-- click on the link to find out more details and to register.

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