Redemption

bath tub

Who gets saved sitting in a claw foot bathtub? I thought.  Sitting on the closed antique pull-string toilet, where I found myself so often in the last year, I couldn’t help but chuckle at the story that this would be for him.  You see, James regularly goes to that old bathtub to sit and think.  Sometimes he goes when his behavior requires some extra thinking time.  Sometimes he goes to get away from the world for a bit.  Sometimes, he takes a clipboard and gets his schoolwork done back there.  Most of the time, that’s the place where we have the hardest and the best conversations.  So, I suppose that it makes sense that he was sitting in the bathtub and I was sitting on the closed toilet when he said, “Mom, I need to talk to you about being saved.”

We’ve had the conversation several times now, but I could tell that this time was different.  There was an urgency in his voice and I had the feeling that he was serious about it this time.  As I began to talk to him, he said, “Mom, I know that I have to believe with my heart and confess with my mouth, but I’m just….I’m just….well, I’m just so bad sometimes.  I just can’t get it right.”

Haven’t we all felt like this sometimes?  My heart went out to him, knowing what it’s like to feel the weight of your sin.  I think it’s particularly so for kids like James.  I think they not only carry the weight of their own sin, but also the weight of their past, and the weight of sin that isn’t even their own.  So, I talked to him a bit more explaining, and then Dad came in and climbed in the claw foot tub with James and took over the talk.  Yeah, it was quite the sight.

After a while, they came out of the bathroom and announced that James had accepted the wonderful gift of salvation.  I don’t think anything is a better moment for a parent.  Birth is amazing, but this rebirth…it’s better.  And for a child that wasn’t naturally born to me, it was almost like a make-up for that missed time.  Isn’t God crazy good like that?

He is in the business of redemption…sweet, beautiful redemption.  And nobody does it better.  No one could orchestrate this scenario.  No one could ever dream up being saved in an old bathroom in a schoolhouse.  Just God.

We have prayed for that moment…many times over, but I know that it’s not by our strength or power that he was saved.  It was by the grace of God.  It was God who placed him in a Christian foster home.  It was God who placed him in our home.  It was God who gave him family and extended family and a church family and friends who prayed for him.  It was God who gave him a story that paralleled our story so perfectly.  It was God who used trouble to lead to restoration.

“…and I will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.”  -Hosea 2:15

door of hope

It was God who chose James Wood.

So today, with joy and gratitude in my heart, I have to recite one of my favorite passages:

“I will show my love to the one I called Not my loved one.

I will say to those called, ‘Not my people’,

‘You are my people’;

and they will say, ‘You are my God.’

-Hosea 2:23

To Test, or Not To Test…That’s the Question

 

I sealed the plain brown envelope with some hesitancy today. That envelope held some pretty important papers…standardized tests for my oldest boys.  Now, I should explain that we are not required by the state of Arkansas to do standardized testing.  On the contrary, they wisely realized that by requiring the testing of homeschoolers, they were wasting taxpayer money on something that didn’t really mean much in the grand scheme of state education.  However, I’ve always said that I would test my kids regularly just for a few reasons:  A) To make sure that I know where they are in respect to other kids, B) To make sure that they have exposure to test-taking situations, and C) In the event that we do put them back in school, it will be added documentation for where they should be placed.

testing

 

But, I made that decision five years ago, when we pulled our oldest child out of public school. A lot has changed since then.  My philosophy of education is vastly different than it was.  I don’t want a standardized test to define my children’s knowledge or worse, to label them one way or another (genius, average joe, or dumb as a rock).  After all, my children are anything but “standard”.  They are each so unique and different…how could any of them be tested up against the other?

So I didn’t test them last year. It was James’s first year of homeschooling, and I wanted to give him a year of rest, and Isaac had tested the year before so it wasn’t going to hurt anything for him to skip a year.  Then this year rolled around, and I really wanted to see where they stood academically.  So we decided to go for it and test them, but as I sealed that envelope today and sent it off in the mail, I got that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach again.  It’s that inner dialogue that we all fight in one way or another that says, “What if this just proves that everything you are doing has been worthless?”

Of course, I know that voice….and it’s not the voice of my Father. So I reminded myself that God leads our every step, and then I realized all the things that these pieces of paper would NOT tell me.  Here’s my list:

  1. That paper will NOT tell me how far we’ve come with James. .. All the hard days, hard discussions, and tears that have paved the way for healing…there’s no test that can tell me the result of that.
  2. It does NOT account for all the times that we stopped instruction to do some serious heart work this year.
  3. It won’t tell me that James is testing WITHOUT medication for the first time.
  4. It won’t tell me that Isaac, who was a struggling math student until last year, did every problem in his head (and nailed it!).
  5. That paper will NOT provide a complete synopsis of the skills, talents and gifts that God has given each of my children.
  6. That paper will NOT tell me the hours that we’ve spent together reading and discussing great literature together as a family.
  7. It will NOT tell me everything that my kids know about our three-year study of American History from the days of the Native Americans to the present.
  8. That paper will NOT tell me the character of my children.
  9. That paper will NOT tell me the spiritual condition of my children’s hearts.
  10. That paper will NOT tell me their intelligence level.
  11. That paper will NOT tell me their worth.
  12. That paper will NOT tell me MY worth as their Mom or their Teacher.

Thankfully, after reciting these things to myself, I was able to drop it in the mail knowing that we’ve had a great year. Not only have we made big strides in academics, more importantly, we’ve made big strides in life.

So mamas and daddies of both homeschooled and public schooled kiddos, here are my words of wisdom when it comes to standardized testing…Everything has a place, but keep it there, in its place. Don’t allow it to seep out into other areas where it has no business.  A piece of paper, whether it’s a standardized test or a BMI or anything else, at the end of the day, is just a piece of paper.  It tells you a few things, but stops short of the big picture.

If you are seeking God’s will for your family and diligently following it to the best of your ability, you have nothing to worry about….God will fill in the gaps, so rest easy.

 

When Love Doesn’t Come Easy

 

adoption-dictionary

 

Once again, I probably should have seen the warning signs…and I guess I did to an extent.  I’ve been doing this for over two years now, but right in the midst of a season growth and good days for James, I somehow dismissed the sudden regression and the random behavior issues.  Not all of it was glaring, but it was there. So, as you can imagine, I wasn’t quite prepared for Valentine’s Day this year when he suddenly burst into uncontrollable tears while claiming that his sister gave him a “funny look.”

 

In just ten minutes, we were going to be hosting six ladies for our first annual Valentine’s Day Tea Party at The Schoolhouse, so needless to say, it was not the best time for a full-fledged melt down.  I knew I didn’t have time to delve into the depths of the despair that he felt, and I also knew that he was really looking forward to the party, so I just asked him to go collect his thoughts and come out when he was ready.

 

It wasn’t long before he came out of the bathroom with dry eyes and a big smile.  And boy, did he ever shine at that party.  He is a gifted conversationalist and makes everyone feel included and important.  It’s one of the things that just comes naturally to him.  He cares deeply for others.  He spoke at all the right times with all the eloquence I could ask for from a nine year old boy.  He beamed the entire time.

 

I thought there was a chance that with the fun and success he felt at the tea party, the sorrow had passed, so I decided not to bring it up again.  But the next morning, I could tell it was gnawing at him.  I knew what had to be done, so the first chance I got, I sat down across from him in the kitchen chair and asked what was bothering him.  This may seem like an easy question but for a young boy, it’s not.  It’s particularly tricky to one who is sorting out a difficult past.  I may as well have been asking for the keys to Alcatraz.  I persisted though.  I know how to get a kid’s emotional dam to break.  You just gently keep making little knicks with a pick until the whole dam is compromised.  I had him to tell me all the little things that were bothering him until the big things just couldn’t be held back any longer and burst forward with all the pressure of the Hoover Dam. 

 

The years of carrying the stigma of being “different”, of being a “foster kid” started rolling down his cheeks.  Pretty soon after that process began, we got to the core of the hurt…”But Mom, why me?  Why did God do that to me?”

 

I wasn’t prepared for the rush of pain that surged through my body at that heart cry.  Tears started welling up in my own eyes until they spilled over onto my cheeks.  Somehow, seeing me cry caused him to stop.  Ever so gently, he used his blanket to wipe my eyes and gave me a big hug and rubbed my back softly.   It was my turn now.  I guess those tears were the heartache of your child not knowing what a precious gift he was.  It was the pain of your child being angry with  your God, who you love so dearly.  It was the sadness of seeing him struggle to understand how his entire life has glorified God in a unique and special way when you can see it so clearly.  It was the fact that he was hurting, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to take it away.

 

I made him look me in the eye (running with mascara trails by now) and I did my very best to give him what he needed to hear, silently asking God to give me the words.  I told him how he is a person full of compassion.  I told him that the days of being a “foster kid” are over.  I assured him that he is ours forever.  I talked to him about God’s sovereignty and how we don’t always know the why behind the things that happen but we can trust God because he’s a good Father…the best.  God is always faithful and always good, just and right.  We discussed where he had been and how bright his future looked. 

hands-love

 

And then we got to the part that he needs to hear over and over again.   This principle outlines every conversation.  I told him that we can live our lives making excuses and feeling sorry for ourselves and for what’s happened to us, or we can live our lives asking God how we can glorify him through our situations.  I told him once again that life isn’t fair, a fact that he knows all too well.  And then I told him that we can choose to listen to the lies that Satan whispers in our ear telling us that we aren’t good enough and never will be, or we can listen to the truth of God.  That we don’t have to be good enough…He loves us anyway with a never-ending, unfailing, always and forever kind of love. 

 

And that is my biggest, most fervent prayer for James.  That he will begin to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ for him.  For James Wood. 

 

We covet your prayers for James to understand this as well, and for all the children who have been abandoned at some point in their life.  It is so hard for them to understand unconditional love, because they weren’t given it at the time when they needed it most.  One of the best things that you can do for waiting children in Arkansas and around the world, is to pray that they will somehow grasp the Father’s love for them.  That in the midst of their heartache, the Lord would wrap his arms around them and show Himself in a tangible way through the hands and feet of Jesus…through The Church…through YOU.

 

This is my heart’s cry today…that Christians all over will realize the huge responsibility we have to pray for, to love, to care for, to raise these children.  Because without the love of people, how can they ever begin to understand the love of Jesus Christ?

 

We Can’t Watch That

Movie

We messed up. We always read the reviews, but this one time, we didn’t.  You would think that we would have this down by now, but as we sat there watching this movie, my mind was racing…wondering what to do.  Should I go turn it off?  Leave it on?  Should I try to grasp for some off topic theme?  No…there was nothing to do but finish the movie, and pray.  You might think that this movie had really naughty language…or maybe adult content, but that wasn’t the problem.

We found Bold Eagle on Amazon Prime, and we thought that it was just a non-mainstream movie, one of those silly budget kid flicks that would be completely harmless.  And to a good percentage of the child population, that’s exactly what it was.  But not to our family.  The plot involves a baby eagle being separated from his birth mother while she has been captured by evil people with the help of babbling, ignorant policemen.  The baby eagle spent lots of time in the care of a kind police dog.  And then, at the end, the people who captured the birth mom turn out to be the bad guys and the baby eagle is reunited with his mother in a fantastic, feel-good ending.

Yeah….it really does sound pretty much harmless. But here’s what it teaches my adopted son.  It teaches him that the people who locked up his birth mother (the police) were probably bad guys, confirming something that he already halfway believes.  It teaches him that one day, there will be a glorious reunion with his birth mother…a reunion in which she has been looking for him for a long time, and it was the bad people keeping her from him.  It teaches him that his birth mom was most likely a victim.  It plants the seed that maybe we are just a temporary family.

I had never, never, seen these things in movies before adopting James.  It never crossed my mind, but now it’s what we think about every time we sit down to watch a movie.  Do you have any idea how many movies have adoption-related themes?  A gazillion.  I’m not condemning these movies…really I’m not, but I do sometimes wish that we didn’t have to be so vigilant.  Movies that all the other kids are watching are many times a no-go for our family for that very reason.  And let’s just be honest here…what kind of movie would end with the baby eagle being forever separated from its mother?  I mean, seriously?  So I get it, really I do.

It just gets frustrating sometimes. It’s a constant reminder that our story won’t exactly have a happy, feel-good ending.  There will always be moments where he will look at me with tears in his eyes and say, “I just want to be with my real mom.” And that phrase will still sting ten years from now.  There’s a really good chance that he will always think of his birth mother as a victim, and there’s an even better chance that he will always, always hope for a glorious reunion with her.  Some days, it’s just hard.  Some days, I am tempted to go through his birth mom’s entire rap sheet with him.  But I don’t.  I know that she holds a special place in his heart, and while I will be truthful, I won’t be hurtful.

I am reminded of a storyline from a movie that we absolutely loved, Inside Out. It’s a storyline that shows that our memories and emotions aren’t continually set on joyful.  Sometimes they are slightly colored with sadness, and best of all, this storyline shows us all that it’s okay to be sad sometimes.  We need to feel our emotions, big and small, pleasant and unpleasant, regardless of whether we want to or not.  But going through those emotions with people who love us and care about us make it just a little bit better.  So that’s what we will continue to do.  In the meantime, I sure do hope for more movies like Inside Out.

Preparing Your Biological Children for Adoption

Preparing Your Biological Children for Adoption

When we began the long process leading up to adoption, we knew that this was not going to be a husband and wife thing. It was going to be a family thing.  We knew that we would need our children to be on board, because we had a suspicion that it wouldn’t always be easy, and we never wanted our kids to resent the decision to adopt.  Looking back now, I can clearly see that God had his hand at work in our kids long before we ever knew that adoption was on the horizon.  So, I wanted to share some of the things that we did (both knowingly and unknowingly) that helped to prepare our children’s hearts for adopting their brother.

  • Read missionary biographies. We particularly loved George Mueller and Gladys Aylward. Those were two of our all-time favorites. These are really great to show the hardships and the blessings that come through adoption. When we were reading these books, we had no idea that God was preparing our hearts, but when the time came, those biographies boosted our faith in God, and helped us through some of the more trying times that we faced.
  • Talk about it. A lot. We started the conversation over a year before we began moving forward with the adoption process. It started very casually, just discussing the fact that many children don’t have families and that more families are needed. Then it became more serious as we started discussing it in a more personal way. Some questions to ask are:
    • How would you feel about getting a new brother/sister?
    • Would you enjoy sharing your room?
    • Will you begin to pray about this?
    • How do you think adopting a child will change our family?
  • Discuss reality. Everyone has the picture of Little Orphan Annie in their head when they hear the word “adoption”. But in reality, it is not like that. There is a lot of hurt and pain involved with adopting a child, and that will affect your children and your family as a whole. So it’s important to talk about the reality of adoption, not the pre-conceived ideals.
  • Give them your time. Waiting is one of the hardest parts of adoption, but trust God with the timing because it’s also the greatest gift. During that pre-adoption period when your paperwork is finished and you are just waiting for a call, take that time to focus on your bios. It will be a while before you can do that again. For a little bit, most of your energy is going to go to your newest addition, so spend one-on-one time with each one of them. Talk to them, play with them, and give them lots of love to store up.
  • Pray Together. We prayed together with our biological kiddos a lot before and during the adoption process. We wanted them to know that God was in control of the situation, and that we were depending entirely on Him (because we definitely were!). We wanted them to see God at work and one of the main ways to do that is to see God answering your prayers.

Preparing Your Biological Children for Adoption

  • Keep the lines of communication open…before and after adoption. Nothing was off limits for our kids during the pre- and post-adoption stages. If it was on their hearts, we wanted to know it. There were several times that we had to pry out a confession about how they felt. But it was so important to let them get it off their chest, and to let them know that their feelings were 100% normal.
  • Point out their God-given qualities that they will get to exercise through adoption. We really tried to play up my kids’ character qualities. I remember saying things like, “Isaac, you have such a kind and forgiving heart. That is going to be so helpful to you and so comforting to your new brother.”

 

These are just a few ideas that will help to prepare your biological children for adoption. Adoption is such a blessing, but it should not be taken lightly.  It absolutely will change your family.  Expect your family dynamics to shift, your routines to be upset for a while, and your children to feel a little unsettled for a while.  But rest assured and know that it’s only a short time before things begin to settle and the blessings start flowing.

It’s Different

Surviving and Thriving in Pre-Adoption

It’s different. There, I said it.  And to be honest, it feels pretty good to get it off my chest.  For over a year now, I’ve struggled with guilt over the fact that I love James a little differently than I love Isaac, Hannah and Lydia.  Before you think I’m a terrible, awful mother, let me say that it’s a common thought among adoptive parents.  Not all, but many adoptive parents, particularly parents of older adopted children, talk about these things in hushed voices behind closed doors.  Most of the time, you can see some distress on their faces as they gingerly say the thing that terrifies them the most.  And yes, they are worried what you might think of them, and they are also worried that they are somehow cheating their adopted child, maybe not doing the job that God called them to do.

The absence of those precious early years with James haunt me every day. There’s not a minute that goes by that I don’t wish that I had gotten to hold him, cuddle him, and rub his tiny hand as he drifts off to sleep in the comfort of a crib set up just for him.  It pains me to talk about the things that my biological kids did when they were babies.  I show them a video from the past, and I can see it in his eyes, the hunger for a video of him when he was a baby, the wish that I had a cute story about him.  I wish it too.  But it’s just not there.  This is a hole in our history that we both will always grieve.  And due in large part to this fact, our love is on a bit of a different course.

As I’ve tried to put an adjective to my love for him, I’ve only come up with one. Fierce.  My love towards James is a fierce love.  It’s a love that is determined to prove to him his worth.  I refuse to allow him to believe that he will never amount to anything.  I refuse to accept, “Nah, I don’t want to learn that new thing,” because he says it out of fear that he will fail, but I know he will fly if he just tries.  I refuse to allow him to gain acceptance through acting out or acting babyish.  Because I know who he is…he’s a bright, sweet boy that anyone would love to get to know.  It’s a love born out of determination, and it’s a love that is slowly and tenderly formed alongside each other.  As I’ve walked this adoptive parent path now for over a year, I have come to realize that not everyone understands a fierce love.  But I think this is what adoptive parents have in common…the ability to love in many different ways.

And it’s my prayer that this post might comfort prospective adoptive parents who say the words that have fallen out of the mouths of thousands of adoptive parents before you…”But what if I can’t love them like I love my other child?” So let me take this opportunity to tell you that you probably won’t, and that’s okay.  A different love doesn’t mean it’s wrong.  And even a different love…a fierce love…has the amazing ability to grow over time.

I believe with all my heart that God has a plan for James.   A big plan, and as much as I’ve tried to be the perfect mom for him, I’m still just me-completely imperfect me.  So, I’m slowly coming to accept the idea that God knew that I would love James in a fierce way.  And maybe that’s just the different kind of love he needs to be everything that God wants for him.

One Year of Trusting God

Surviving and Thriving in the Pre-Adoptive Stage

It’s been one year. Okay, one year and 28 days since we added our fourth child.  In some ways, it seems like the past year has been going in slow motion, but in other ways, it flew by.  Life is funny sometimes.  We had a lot of “firsts” last year.  On Valentine’s Day this year, I realized that it would be the first holiday that wasn’t a “first” for James.  It seems like such a long time ago when he wasn’t quite ready to make Valentine cards for the family.  I still remember it like yesterday though.  When I explained to him that every year, we write each other Valentine’s and have a special Valentine Day dinner, he said, “That’s weird.”  But that night he sat down at the table and couldn’t keep himself from smiling when he opened one Valentine Card after another and read about how much we love him.  It must have felt strange to him.   I can remember wondering if our Valentine’s Days would ever be the same again.  After this year’s celebration, I can say they’re not the same.  They are even better.

This year, James was on board from the beginning, helping with decorations, making Valentine Cards for everyone, and excitedly preparing the traditional Valentine supper. It was so fun to see the difference a year has made.  It filled my soul and renewed my hope that broken things can be beautiful again.  Here’s a taste of this year’s celebration:

brothers valentine

 

 

 

 

Sometimes, I think about these blessings that I would be missing out on if we hadn’t obeyed God, and I just am saddened by the sheer possibility. Hearing your biological child say, “I love you,” is absolutely amazing.  Have your adopted child say, “I love you,” is a totally different kind of amazing.  Not necessarily better or worse…just a feeling that I wouldn’t want to miss out on experiencing.

 

James has made leaps this year:

  1. He has grown like a weed! I have no doubt we’ll see a good two inches of growth this year on his ceremonial birthday doorway marking.
  2. He has flourished in (home)school without the assistance of medication.
  3. He is sleeping regularly.
  4. He is becoming a great brother.
  5. He no longer becomes hysterical at bumps and bruises.
  6. He is starting to trust us.
  7. He has accepted our traditions and added some new ones.
  8. He freely expresses his love for us.
  9. He expresses remorse when he does wrong.

This isn’t even half of the list. The confidence I now see in him, the peace I’m seeing growing in him…

 

I wish that I could say, “Look at what we did! We saved this child!”  But there’s no way.  It was much less about what we did and much more about what God did.  Last year, most days I felt as though I was drowning, struggling up to the surface every few days just to get a gasp of fresh air before heading back down.  I experienced my first (and hopefully last) round of serious depression.   Looking back, I think it was just the perfect “thorn in my side” to remind me that God is doing this…not me.  God was making us a family…not me.

On the very day that marked one year since James has been with us, I could literally feel a big sigh from deep inside. I looked around and suddenly saw James, who seemed like he had just always been there.  I looked at my biological kids and said, “Wow!  You’ve grown since last time I really saw you.” And I had this renewed sense that I’m still here.  I’m not coming up for air every few days anymore.  No, I am swimming strong, and all my little ducks are right beside me.  While I wasn’t looking, they were having the time of their life learning to swim strong too.

When There Isn't Enough Mom to Go Around

That phrase that I said every day last year as soon as my feet hit the floor…do you remember it? I trust you, God. It got me through, and not only did it get me through, but God was right.  His plan for our family was and is good and right and perfect.

So, as we close the door on this first year together, I am climbing out of survival mode. I’m shedding the extra pounds I picked up on the way, but even more than that, I’ve shed many of the worries I carried with me, seeing once again that God can be trusted.  And now, my faith is just a little-or maybe it’s a lot-stronger than it was.  Now the next time God asks me to do something hard, I’ll know without a doubt that it’s a good plan, and maybe, just maybe, I won’t worry so much.