A Friend’s Review of The Connected Child

In our recent series on the adoption, I included a pretty lengthy critique of The Connected Child, the book which serves as a bit of an adoption bible in Christian circles. In the midst of posting those, my good pastor friend Brian Liechty let me know he had also been working on a review of the book (separately from anything I’d written) since so many folks in his church were using it as a resource. As a pastor, he was also concerned about many elements in the book. After we talked a bit about it, he told me he was considering submitting it to CCEF for their journal. I even got the privilege of reading an early version of the review.

I’m glad to say that Brian did submit the review to CCEF and they did decide to publish it. And it’s a really great review. Brian does an excellent job of laying out both the many strengths and weaknesses of the book, in a far more winsome and transparent and encouraging way than I did in my reviews (and I feel no shame in admitting that!). Brian wrote it with a pastor’s heart, wanting the flock over which the Holy Spirit has made him an overseer to be well cared for and informed in the ways they used this resource for the glory of God. And he was kind enough to share that heart with the rest of us via CCEF’s journal.

So, if you’re not getting this, I think if you have any experience with or interest in The Connected Child, you really ought to read Brian’s review. Unfortunately, you do have to buy either the entire journal or the single article to read it. But if you buy the article, it’s only $1.99 and totally worth it. To whet your appetite, here’s a free sample of the review.

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Adoption Series Roll-Up

Now that we’ve spent seven months (WHAT!?!?) opening up our hearts and convictions regarding adoption, we’re ready to get back to what this blog is all about: raising our kids in Jesus. That, of course, includes adoption, but that’s clearly not the totality of it nor is that all we care about discussing on this blog.

So since we’re done posting on adoption for the time being, we wanted to provide a roll-up of the posts we wrote on the topic to sort of wrap everything up. Our hope in this series has been to be incredibly open of the many struggles we’ve faced in our own adoption story without cleaning it up or trying to make it look pretty when it’s painful. And more, we want all of us to see our story of adoption and the resources available to adoptive parents inside God’s grand gospel story of a crucified and risen king.

Here are all the posts in our adoption series:

  1. Getting Real About Adoption
  2. Loving the Unlovable
  3. Sin in the Adopted Child
  4. Support for the Adoptive Parent
  5. Broken-Hearted Parents
  6. Some Clarifying Thoughts on Our Adoption
  7. Examining Adoption Resources (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 1)
  8. Normal and Healthy? (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 2)
  9. A Matter of Foundations (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 3)
  10. The Sins of Neurology  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 4)
  11. Idol Swapping  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 5)
  12. Setting the Course  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 6)
  13. Another Way Forward (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 7)
  14. The Therapy Our Children Need
  15. Who Are You Calling Normal?
  16. Optional Adoption
  17. How to Adopt for Almost Free (And No Fundraising!)
  18. What About “Those” Kids?
  19. Trying to Make Them Lovable

Trying to Make Them Lovable

We’ve addressed many topics in our adoption series. We’ve been raw on here, slicing our hearts wide open in order to expose our weakness with the hopes of exposing Christ’s power. And it’s been painful–painful to say it all in such a public manner, painful to be rejected by those who disagree, and painful to have more and more layers pulled back in my own heart.

In the final post of this series, I want to write about my latest reflections, several months after typing my first words on the topic.

The second post of the series was titled “Loving the Unlovable.” Every adoption resource we’ve seen out there seems to have a mutual goal in mind–to make adoption easier by helping you see your children as lovable. This is done mainly by helping you understand how your child thinks so you sympathize with them. The conclusions they draw almost always end with “proving” how their reactions to situations aren’t their fault: it’s a brain disconnect because of their past.

And when parents like me–who know the truth of Scripture and are shocked when I see what a struggle it is to love a child from hard places–hear this, I think, “Thank goodness!!! That makes them far easier to love now that I see them as innocent.” And I cling to words like that because I have my answer and feel so much better.

But this makes a whore of the adoption story of Scripture: “For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.(Rom 5:10-11)” God doesn’t adopt us as his children because we were good enough or we somehow convinced him we were. No, we’re adopted while still his enemies, dead in our trespasses and sins.

He didn’t first say, “Well, she’s just a child, so sweet and innocent,” or “She can’t really help it because she’s been harmed in the past,” or “She doesn’t know any better” first so he could have the ability to love me. He said, “You’re my enemy, and you know it. There’s nothing good in you. Nothing. You don’t even want me to save you. And I’m going to show my great mercy by saving you anyway, giving you life and love you’ve never deserved. And I’m going to make you my child, because my love for you has nothing to do with how much you deserve it, but everything to do with how covered you are by the blood of my one and only Son. You’ll take my name, and when you do, you’ll be able to love people who are even as bad as you.”

I know this last story personally, though not deeply enough. And it makes me tear up to know how hard we work to try to make our children look lovable instead of how hard we work to reflect on the truth from the last paragraph. The former feels so much easier because none of us know the truth deeply enough. We all believe we’re more lovable on our own than we are. We believe we were loved by Christ because of how lovable we are. We forget that we “were dead in our trespasses and sins”. We forget that there was “no one righteous, not even one”. We forget that “every inclination of the thoughts of our heart was only evil all the time”. When we see absolute depravity in our kids from hard backgrounds, we can’t accept that we’re that awful, that we were loved when we were in that stage. So we can’t love others either, unless they first look more lovable.

The things that happened to my children aren’t their fault, but the way they respond is. The same is true for you and me and anyone else in the world. They have no more good in them than I do. And it was when I was this evil that God in human flesh gave his life for me and adopted me as his own. Even when we display more and more grace to children in situations of correction and guidance, their responses are still their responsibility and will be judged by a holy God.

Adoption is the central point of the gospel, because it’s where we find ourselves a new family, a new hope, and a new inheritance. Our new family redefines our future and sets a new course for our lives. In adopting children, we take them in with all their sin and unloveliness and problems and trauma and issues. Sometimes we even take them in as enemies, pitting themselves against us in rebellion and anger. They’re not lovely–they’re a mess. Just like we were. Just like we still are, save for the righteousness of God we are in Jesus. The kids we adopt are no different than our biological children–they’re born in iniquity, without hope and without God in the world. They’re just like us. No amount of rationalizing or psychologizing or normalizing can change that.

Through the past few months, this is the hardest pill I’ve had to swallow, and yet the most freeing. My “unlovable” children are nothing more than a mirror to own unloveableness. And I don’t want to see that ugliness in me any more than I want to see it in my children.

But the good news of Jesus tells a better story. It gives a better answer to our dilemma. The answer to loving the unlovable is still to know that “we are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.”

Here are all the posts in our adoption series:

  1. Getting Real About Adoption
  2. Loving the Unlovable
  3. Sin in the Adopted Child
  4. Support for the Adoptive Parent
  5. Broken-Hearted Parents
  6. Some Clarifying Thoughts on Our Adoption
  7. Examining Adoption Resources (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 1)
  8. Normal and Healthy? (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 2)
  9. A Matter of Foundations (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 3)
  10. The Sins of Neurology  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 4)
  11. Idol Swapping  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 5)
  12. Setting the Course  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 6)
  13. Another Way Forward (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 7)
  14. The Therapy Our Children Need
  15. Who Are You Calling Normal?
  16. Optional Adoption
  17. How to Adopt for Almost Free (And No Fundraising!)
  18. What About “Those” Kids?
  19. Trying to Make Them Lovable

What About “Those” Kids?

Rules, rules, rules. So many rules in this world. Some good, some bad. Some God-given, some man-made. They’re everywhere, including in the adoption world.

I’m sure you’ve heard many of them. Don’t adopt out of birth order: it might confuse the children already in your home. Don’t adopt older kids especially: it’s too easy for them to overpower your younger kids. And don’t ever, EVER, bring a child in your home who has had any kind of sexual abuse if you have other children: because gaaaaaah!!

I truly understand the rules from the world’s view. They all make total sense. From a biblical view, though, I can’t make heads or tails of it.

We’re called to father (or mother) the fatherless (or motherless). And just like other parts of Scripture where we’re called to love our enemies or become all things for ALL people or take the word to the nations, there aren’t “buts” after those commands. So it doesn’t say “father the fatherless, but not if they’re older than your kids or a little too broken.”

This is a tough topic. I know it. I especially know it because we had to deal with all the questions in our last adoption. And we ultimately decided to break all the “rules.”

It scared the crap out of me. And that fear is still there in my heart daily.

But it scares me because I’m a faithless child. I think my children’s future somehow has something to do with me. I wait for God to curse me when I do something like this, listening to whispers that I somehow tested him. And it will all be my fault because I acted as a fool!

But then I remember there are no “buts.” And I know this was the door opened for us, the one God designed before the foundation of the world. And contrary to God cursing us, not opening the door would have meant many blessings we would have missed.

I look at my child, at the haunted looks she still has in her eyes, and sometimes, if I look closely enough, I see a spark of life break through. I see her do something kind for a sibling or run to help with something. I see the love she and all her siblings have for each other, how the family feels incomplete if one isn’t there.

I see her grow in her understanding of who Jesus is. A little girl scared of monsters in the beginning, telling us God isn’t big enough to make them go away, seeing more each day that God already defeated the biggest monster there will ever be. And even while she’s still rejecting that Jesus in her heart, I know she’s seeing him in bigger and more real ways than she ever was before.

And I think about what her life might have been. Don’t mis-hear. WE are failing all the freaking time. She’s not blessed because she now has rock star parents. She’s blessed because she’s where God intends her to be. Maybe she would have been in a better home if we hadn’t said yes. But maybe she wouldn’t be. Maybe she’d still be in the system and no one would want her. I’ll never know the maybes. I only know I was supposed to say “yes.”

And I don’t know how to say “no” to one child’s soul for the sake of some possible future physical “safety” issue of my other children. I don’t know how to confidently make a future prediction that my children will turn out in any way no matter the decisions we make here. There are the Josh Duggars who were “raised right and safely,” and there are those who experienced unbelievable tragedies who have beautiful stories of redemption. Sometimes we dress up pragmatism and call it wisdom when it’s really just fear and faithlessness.

Have things changed for us? Absolutely. I have a much more keen eye. I have fewer freedoms. We have the “yell and tell” conversation more often than most families. We have “safeties” in place. We have some rules set up in our home that most families wouldn’t probably have.

And we’re also growing to understand we just can’t control every single thing. That’s still the hardest lesson for me, and I hope to say yes over and over to keep learning it. A life I control less suddenly makes God way bigger in my eyes. I get to watch him be sovereign over my family. I get to see him as a good God who loves and protects all my children way better than I can. I get to see there are things more important than physical safety. I get a bigger faith.

It’s important to say that there’s no intent here to say every single person should say yes to every single child coming into their home. We’re not there yet either! My challenge for you (and me!) is to simply have a bigger faith, to get out of your comfort zone, and to trust God’s design.

Here are all the posts in our adoption series:

  1. Getting Real About Adoption
  2. Loving the Unlovable
  3. Sin in the Adopted Child
  4. Support for the Adoptive Parent
  5. Broken-Hearted Parents
  6. Some Clarifying Thoughts on Our Adoption
  7. Examining Adoption Resources (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 1)
  8. Normal and Healthy? (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 2)
  9. A Matter of Foundations (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 3)
  10. The Sins of Neurology  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 4)
  11. Idol Swapping  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 5)
  12. Setting the Course  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 6)
  13. Another Way Forward (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 7)
  14. The Therapy Our Children Need
  15. Who Are You Calling Normal?
  16. Optional Adoption
  17. How to Adopt for Almost Free (And No Fundraising!)
  18. What About “Those” Kids?
  19. Trying to Make Them Lovable

How to Adopt for Almost Free (And No Fundraising!)

When we first started talking adoption, most of our adoptive friends had adopted internationally, meaning it had cost them somewhere around $30,000. We didn’t have that kind of money and didn’t look forward to the prospect of raising those funds. So we assumed it would be several years before we could actually do anything.

Then a friend let me know about the Special Needs Adoption Program (SNAP). (We’re giving details about how this program works in Indiana, though we understand that most states are similar.) This is a program through Child Services that helps find a forever home for children considered “hard to place.” Some categories are sibling groups, children with disabilities, or children over the age of three. The parental rights of the parents have already been revoked, so their placement with you means you will be working towards adoption. And there’s no limit to the amount of children you can have in your home!

The process was fairly simple. We took four classes within a month, filled out a load of paperwork, got fingerprinted, got CPR/First Aid certified (optional but preferred), and had a home study. Once the home study was complete, we waited about a month to hear we had been approved. The whole process start to finish was four months for us.

At that point we were free to inquire after children on the Adopt US Kids site (and here’s the listing for Indiana’s SNAP kids). The inquiry would go most often to the child’s case worker. The case worker then is required to send the child’s case summary to you. This is huge, because you’ll get to see exactly what the child’s history is–the reason they were removed from their home, any problems the child has had (mentally, physically, socially, and developmentally), any medications and therapies they receive, and pretty much anything else you’d want to know.

After you’ve read the report and if you think this child would be a good fit for you, you would email the case worker back to let them know you want to be considered as the child’s parents. The case worker and a team look at your home study and decide if you might be a good match. They usually like to have 3-5 families to consider. If you’re chosen as one of them, you’ll be called in for an interview along with the other families being considered. At some point after that, you’ll either find out you were or weren’t chosen as the child’s family, or you may be called for additional interviews.

Once you’ve been matched, there’s ideally a month-long transition period into your home. You meet the child by yourself in a neutral spot, then maybe another time with your other children, then maybe you have an outing together, then a sleepover until finally they move in with you. This period is really intended for you and the case worker to evaluate if you still want to move forward. Though you can technically back out at any point before the adoption is finalized, this is not something you should see as an option after the initial month since you would only be making things more difficult for the child.

Once they live with you and you file to adopt them, it typically takes around six months for the adoption to be finalized. Compared to most adoptions, the whole process is crazy fast.

This is the way things are intended to go, but of course we live in a messy world, so things rarely turn out that way. There are so many different situations with each adoption. For instance it was just short of a year before our first adoption was finalized, and they moved in with us the day we met them because of some extreme circumstances–important to note we had a choice in that matter.

Along with this being a faster process, it’s also almost free! Classes and homestudy cost nothing. You pay for fingerprinting and CPR/First Aid classes. If you don’t have five children in your home, though, they’ll probably try to encourage you to foster first. Absolutely not required but a great role. You can even foster to adopt, meaning they’ll place children with you who are likely to become available for adoption. In that instance, Child Services even pays for your fingerprinting and CPR/First Aid (required for foster parents).

Most people know there’s a monthly per diem for foster-certified families. BUT after the adoption is finalized, most SNAP children qualify for adoption subsidy, a monthly allowance for the parents until the child turns 18. It’s usually just a bit less than the foster care per diem. The child can also always have Medicaid and can go to any state college for free. Huge blessings!

I share this info with you mainly because I find most people have NO IDEA about this program, and I have many friends who, like we did, feel as though adoption is out of their reach financially or think it will be years before they’re matched with someone. God truly has placed those of us living in the US in a unique position to open our homes over and over to the orphans in our country.

Here are all the posts in our adoption series:

  1. Getting Real About Adoption
  2. Loving the Unlovable
  3. Sin in the Adopted Child
  4. Support for the Adoptive Parent
  5. Broken-Hearted Parents
  6. Some Clarifying Thoughts on Our Adoption
  7. Examining Adoption Resources (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 1)
  8. Normal and Healthy? (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 2)
  9. A Matter of Foundations (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 3)
  10. The Sins of Neurology  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 4)
  11. Idol Swapping  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 5)
  12. Setting the Course  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 6)
  13. Another Way Forward (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 7)
  14. The Therapy Our Children Need
  15. Who Are You Calling Normal?
  16. Optional Adoption
  17. How to Adopt for Almost Free (And No Fundraising!)
  18. What About “Those” Kids?
  19. Trying to Make Them Lovable

Optional Adoption

So far, we’ve spoken much about adoption as a support to those we know who have adopted or are considering it already. We expect that there are others reading this, but so far, we’ve not said much about them. You might be surprised how often we hear comments like, “It’s so great that you all adopted those kids” or “I can’t imagine ever doing anything like adopting” or “You all are so brave to adopt”.

I promise you it didn’t feel like bravery to us. Around the time we were in the thick of the adoption process, Bill read a book called Rich in Love: When God Rescues Messy People about a family who had birthed/fostered/adopted 32 children. This part stuck out in particular:

People have asked how we could have made such serious decisions about children so quickly over the phone, without praying about whether we should let more kids come into our home. When God says, “Don’t murder or steal,” I don’t have to pray about whether I should be involved in those things, because I already know his will. In the same way, God says in his Word that we should take care of the widows and orphans. I don’t have to pray to know if this is his will because he already told me it is. He wants us to do it. Period. And Domingo and I felt that as long as God kept bringing us kids, and we had room, we would keep taking them in.

It was never about bravery, just obedience.

“Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.”(Isaiah 1:17)

“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says… Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:22, 27)

So why did our churches so blindly keep ignoring the weak and needy, the orphans and widows? Why were we ignoring them? Why are you?

You know why: Your life is hard. You have small children. You both work. You’re can’t afford it.* You’re already dealing with special needs in your family. You don’t have your crap together. You’re unorganized, impatient, sick, disabled, anxious. Maybe you even just adopted.

And yet if any of you, in the same situation you’re in now, saw a child you didn’t know about to be hit by a car, none of those things would hinder you making your best effort to barrel the child out of the way to save their life. You wouldn’t pray about it first, ask your friends, read a book, have a long meeting with your spouse, research on the internet. You would run straight into traffic, not caring how much it might hurt you.

But when we have time to think, we become a faithless people.

Most of you who read this blog live in North America. That most likely puts you in the 1% bracket of the wealthiest people in the world. But with most wealth comes the most entitlement. We’re so wealthy we whine when we get paper-cuts and recheck our finger a dozen times throughout the day to see the wound again and feel sorry for ourselves. We don’t have to do the hungry thing, the exposed-to-elements thing, and we don’t have to do the “my child was just beheaded by ISIS” thing.

Many of you have truly suffered. Honestly, you’re probably the ones who are most likely to do bold stuff like adopting and fostering and opening homes to the dirty and unwanted. But the rest of us? We’re just running scared, worshiping ease and comfort, completely acting as though we have never heard a word Jesus said. We think this life is it, and we’ll ignore whoever we have to, like widows and orphans, in order to make it great.

“We must go through many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22b)

I’m sure my frustration is coming through my writing. I’m frustrated that I’m with you in your hesitancy. We keep talking about whether or not to adopt again–and it sounds impossible. My life has been so out-of-control since adopting the first time. One of my children doesn’t really care for me at all and acts as though her life goal is to defy me. I don’t get breaks anymore because I have to keep such a close watch to protect all of them. I never have a clue what I’m doing and fear constantly. I’ve been more anxious than ever. And all I can ever do–ever–is see what a failure I am. Please, God, don’t ask me to do this again!

But He already has. In His Word. And who am I to say no to the creator of everything, the salvation of my undeserving soul, the only one worthy to be glorified, the one who has faithfully promised to work out everything for my good even though I was once his enemy?

How could we adopt again? How could we adopt in the first place? Because he adopted me. The way my life is affected is irrelevant.

I have nothing to say about what your story should look like. God wrote each of our stories to be different. Maybe you should adopt over and over for the rest of your life until you die, maybe you should only adopt once, maybe you shouldn’t adopt at all. Maybe you should foster. Maybe you should open your home to the lonely kid who always seems a little hungry and a little smelly.

Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum you probably should allow yourself to be pushed far past what you’re thinking right now. Certainly not because I’m telling you to. I’m simply trying to remind you of the hard truth I’d rather ignore, too.

“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says… Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:22, 27)

*We have a post coming on how to adopt basically for free.

Here are all the posts in our adoption series:

  1. Getting Real About Adoption
  2. Loving the Unlovable
  3. Sin in the Adopted Child
  4. Support for the Adoptive Parent
  5. Broken-Hearted Parents
  6. Some Clarifying Thoughts on Our Adoption
  7. Examining Adoption Resources (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 1)
  8. Normal and Healthy? (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 2)
  9. A Matter of Foundations (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 3)
  10. The Sins of Neurology  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 4)
  11. Idol Swapping  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 5)
  12. Setting the Course  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 6)
  13. Another Way Forward (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 7)
  14. The Therapy Our Children Need
  15. Who Are You Calling Normal?
  16. Optional Adoption
  17. How to Adopt for Almost Free (And No Fundraising!)
  18. What About “Those” Kids?
  19. Trying to Make Them Lovable

Who Are You Calling Normal?

When Bill was trying to establish that the idea of healthy and normal change across time and culture, one argument we heard in response was that adopted children’s behavior is most certainly not normal, but sometimes downright odd. At first I agreed, though for different reasons. The more I reflected on this statement, the more I realized how backwards it is.

When children come into our home showing sinful behaviors, they are as normal as you can get. “As it is written: None is righteous, no, not one.” What’s abnormal is when I or any of my children actually do the right thing for the right reasons. And as parents, aren’t we working from birth to get our children to do the right things all the time? And when we do that, often even when our children do “good,” it’s tainted with selfishness. “I’ll do this so I don’t get in trouble, so I can charm others into liking me, so I can get what I want.” So we get pretty used to seeing kids do “good works,” even if they aren’t really good.

Many adopted children don’t come in with that same training from birth. So many don’t even put on the act. And to call that normal would be to admit that we’re just as messed up as they are. And that’s far too uncomfortable of a thought.

I know the gospel. I was raised in it and have had solid biblical teaching all my life. And even with that, most of the time when I do “good,” it’s for the same selfish reasons I listed above. We all live in our flesh (which biblically speaking is simply another way to say we all still have a sinful nature). The only possible way to actually do the right thing with no selfish motives, only concerned about God’s glory, is by the work of the Spirit. Only by grace.

If we have a family who looks put together, loves one another, and is fairly obedient, that is certainly not normal. That’s either grace or an act.

When our adopted kids came in, I despised them because they messed up my idolatry of having a normal family. I liked how awesome we looked. Then they came and peeled back the happy brochure to show the golden calf underneath. And I was angry because the act we’d been putting on became exposed.

I’ve trained my children to look like white washed tombs. It’s easy for me to see the sin in my adopted kids and believe they need Jesus more because I’ve made my other kids think their lifestyle has made them righteous. I speak of Jesus to them but put hope in my amazing parenting and how they receive it. I treat the children who don’t act like the rest of us (ya know, the adopted ones) as though they don’t belong. I can’t stand thinking they reflect my depravity more than any of my bio kids do. I refuse to believe they’re serving as a mirror for me.

But the insane behaviors I see in my adopted children are more normal than much else I see in my home. Because it’s the true nature of my heart, of Bill’s heart, of all my children’s heart. We’re all 100% depraved and evil. All the thoughts of our hearts are only sinful all the time. The Pharisee I love to be doesn’t really believe that. I think I’m a little bad but mainly good. I deny I’m really an old hag by singing a song in the presence of a magical golden flower. I see the best part of me–the illusion–and believe it’s true of all of me.

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My hope is to see this clearly, to peel off the mask I paste on my face, to let the world see how normal we all are in our waywardness. My hope is to look with tears of joy at the One who is truly odd, the weirdest of them all–the perfect Savior who took my imperfections on himself, allowing the wrath I deserve to be poured out on him. I don’t want to be normal. I don’t want my kids to be normal. I want the life of our unusual, exceptional, unmatchable Redeemer, who is calling us into His abnormal life.

Here are all the posts in our adoption series:

  1. Getting Real About Adoption
  2. Loving the Unlovable
  3. Sin in the Adopted Child
  4. Support for the Adoptive Parent
  5. Broken-Hearted Parents
  6. Some Clarifying Thoughts on Our Adoption
  7. Examining Adoption Resources (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 1)
  8. Normal and Healthy? (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 2)
  9. A Matter of Foundations (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 3)
  10. The Sins of Neurology  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 4)
  11. Idol Swapping  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 5)
  12. Setting the Course  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 6)
  13. Another Way Forward (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 7)
  14. The Therapy Our Children Need
  15. Who Are You Calling Normal?
  16. Optional Adoption
  17. How to Adopt for Almost Free (And No Fundraising!)
  18. What About “Those” Kids?
  19. Trying to Make Them Lovable

The Therapy Our Children Need

Like most kids from foster care, our adopted children had encountered some terrible events that put them into the state’s care in the first place. And the state, seeing a problem, prescribed therapy to treat the horrible things in their past. My then six-year-old was already set up with two therapists to help her understand/deal with her emotions. I cannot tell you how important the therapists were to our family. They each became my friend, someone I trusted, and basically my resource for all things adoption-related.

Much of my daughter’s therapy sessions were spent trying to make her feel great about herself, having her record all the things she was good at, talk about her awesome features, giving herself much praise. But almost every time the therapists left after a session, I found myself revising some of what my daughter had been taught.

I say I revised what she was taught because I agree that my daughter’s a pretty cool gal. She’s great at coloring, running, has some of the most beautiful eyes in the history of ever, and gets along well with her siblings.

But none of that is because of her. In fact, all of that is because of God working in her.

The therapy she was receiving was one of a cheap worth, putting our hope in us. That’s fine for about two minutes. Until we fail. Again. Then our hope is crushed. It’s like putting your hope in a chair made of crackers. Every time you trust it to hold you up, you’ll just find yourself hurt lying on the floor.

The therapy our children need is a hope better than a reinforced steel chair: solid and strong and sure. The hope is this: “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved,through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

If my daughter puts her hope in her own accomplishments, she’ll find herself falling short every time. It’s a treatment that won’t last. But if her hope is in Christ’s work, she’ll understand she’s a daughter of the king, a princess who is higher than the angels, receiving God’s inheritance. She’ll not care as much about her failures because she’ll know Jesus was perfect in all the ways she’s imperfect, and his blood covers her imperfections in such a way that nothing will be able to separate her from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

Now that’s a therapy that’ll last.

Here are all the posts in our adoption series:

  1. Getting Real About Adoption
  2. Loving the Unlovable
  3. Sin in the Adopted Child
  4. Support for the Adoptive Parent
  5. Broken-Hearted Parents
  6. Some Clarifying Thoughts on Our Adoption
  7. Examining Adoption Resources (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 1)
  8. Normal and Healthy? (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 2)
  9. A Matter of Foundations (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 3)
  10. The Sins of Neurology  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 4)
  11. Idol Swapping  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 5)
  12. Setting the Course  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 6)
  13. Another Way Forward (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 7)
  14. The Therapy Our Children Need
  15. Who Are You Calling Normal?
  16. Optional Adoption
  17. How to Adopt for Almost Free (And No Fundraising!)
  18. What About “Those” Kids?
  19. Trying to Make Them Lovable

Another Way Forward

Early on in beginning these critiques of The Connected Child/Empowered to Connect (TCC/ETC), I made a soft commitment to build up an alternative view to TCC/ETC. So far, I’ve not done much of that, wishing to simply push through the less-than-savory task of taking aim at a method advocated by brothers and sisters in Jesus that I don’t know, but also used and embraced by many brothers and sisters I do know.

Which is to say it’s hard to write a bunch of stuff you know is going to critique a bunch of people you care about. And I keep putting off each post because I find the task so undesirable. It may come as a surprise, but I do actually get tired of going against the grain…

But I still want to finish what I started and try to give a different vision for what we’re trying to do with our kids, especially as that relates to the two we adopted. Besides, Courtney has a ton of great stuff lined up that’s just been in a holding pattern waiting for me to wrap this up.

To attempt to counteract my perennial long-windedness, I’m just going to do my “rebuilding” in bullet points (as opposed to another 37 blog posts on the topic…) and if someone wants more detail on part of it, you can let me know.

  • The primary goal for all of our children is to know and be known by King Jesus. While we have zero control over the latter, we have much to do with the former. Proclamation is central to our time on Earth, because it was central to our King during his time on Earth. More than wanting my kids to be safe or happy or well-adjusted or connected or well-rounded or successful, I want them to know the Ruler of the Entire Universe. Of course, I’d be glad for them to be everything I just mentioned in the last sentence. But since suffering is not only part of this life, but also a gift from God, then I don’t count on a suffering-free or even suffering-lite life for my kids. Besides, the only thing that’ll sustain them through success or failure, through health or sickness is the unending faithfulness and goodness of a crucified and risen Savior.
  • I suck as a parent. One of things that goes along with most parenting resources (and TCC/ETC is no exception) is a quasi-guarantee that through such and such parenting technique, we’ll bring about real and lasting change and hope of our kids. Well, I neither promise anything that large or see that in my own parenting. My kids are a mess, I’m a mess, Courtney’s a mess, our church is a mess, our neighborhood is a mess. So while I want Jesus to be central to my parenting, my actions have a disturbing tendency to show an opposite desire for my kids. “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” I say this because there is enormous pressure from any parenting resource to feel like we need to get it all right. Here’s an article from ETC basically saying, “We used to screw up, but now we’ve got it figured out.” Ugh. That’s only true till it’s not. Failure in parenting is the burden we bear alongside our successes. Which really just means that…
  • Parenting is by faith and not by method. I feel like I’m beating this drum all the time, but I really just can’t put the darn drum down. We parent our kids in faith that we serve a good God who wants good for his children. He’s not capricious. And he’s not some mysterious secret-keeper, withholding the key to the secret door of parenting knowledge. I’m inherently suspicious of the astounding claims of the snake oil salesman and I feel the same way about parenting resources that do the same thing. Sometimes I struggle to come up with anything to write on this blog, because it all just boils down to, “I suck. You suck. Our kids suck. We all need Jesus.” But then I think I’m kinda okay with that, because it’s better than empty promises and false guarantees. (Cue the drum solo.) But regardless of whether or not you agree with my assessment of TCC/ETC, it’s just a method. If you choose that method, then do it by faith in Jesus, not in the method. Or if, like me, you choose a different method, that’s not where to place our hope either. Whether TCC/ETC or Parenting with Love & Logic or Shepherding a Child’s Heart or Happiest Baby on the Block or whatever your Momma told you or whatever social pressure you feel the need to conform to, put your hope in Jesus as Savior and King. Methods come and go, but he never changes.
  • All my kids are weird, and so am I–and we’re also all the same. I have biological children and adopted children. They are all very different, they all have different ways of responding to situations, they all have different likes and dislikes (though I’m pretty sure they all agree Batman is cool). Bio or not, they’re all different from each other and from Court and me. So, we’re all weird. But we’re also all the same because we have hearts and lungs and brains and belly buttons. And with all that, we all have hearts steeped in selfishness and sinfulness. In that way, we’re exactly the same. “But you [all] were dead in your transgressions and sins.” So, if we all have the same symptoms and the same sickness, we all need the same soul medicine: Jesus. I don’t have a track for my biological (read: normal) and my adopted (read: abnormal) kids. Nope, one track here, with one poor dead horse that I keep beating. Good thing that Jesus can raise that pitiful horse up from the dead, too.
  • Because all the kids are different, we certainly respond to them differently. So, yeah, all my kids need Jesus, but they need him in ways that look a little different from kid to kid. I think this is one of the things missed a lot with adopted kids that TCC/ETC provides such an attractive solution for. Those of us who adopt (and foster, I would think) get firebombed with the sudden arrival of a child with incredibly different backgrounds, genetics, stories, patterns, rhythms. The temptation is to call this different “abnormal”, because that’s nicely packaged and separated. That’s why the whole category of “kids from trauma” is unhelpful because it’s less about “trauma”, and more about how vastly different kids we didn’t birth and raise from Day One are. So I can’t split my kids into the normal ones and the abnormal ones. But I will gladly acknowledge that the kids we adopted have had a far steeper learning curve, because we’re just as different for them as they are for us. So I’m fine with understanding that their path is probably more different than the six bios, but that doesn’t really mean much. At the end of the day, Court and I evaluate each child individually and differently: each kid, not just those weird, adopted ones…
  • Our battle is not against flesh and blood. That’s probably my tipping point with the neurological stuff and coming from trauma and brains being hard-wired. If we really believe the Scripture, then we have to acknowledge that we’re dealing with more than just physiology here. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Am I trying to drive a wedge between spiritual and physical? The opposite, actually. In fact, the unbelieving world and most of the adoption stuff out there are the ones doing that. They claim that if you can treat the body, the soul will be healed. And I say: Bull. Furthermore, in buying into this, we’re forgetting about a massive part of the ministry of Jesus: casting out demons. “Bill, are you saying that adopted kids could have demons?” I’m saying that any kid could have a demon. And the fact is that when we bring children in from Satan-ravaged circumstances, riddled with demons and spiritual forces, then I think we really ought not to be surprised if “kids from trauma” really means “kids with demons.” No, I’m not saying every kid. I’m just saying that we act like it’s a not even a possibility. Sometimes I think we just forget that as much as culture has changed over the past 2,000 years, perhaps demonic behaviors of self-destruction, seizures, and incredibly odd actions might have changed a bit over time as well.
  • The battle belongs to the Lord. Truly, we’re in the midst of a battle. Our own hearts and circumstances are sometimes in the crossfire. And sometimes our kids are, too. But we don’t fight a battle like we’re uncertain of the outcome. In fact, Jesus has already won the war and we’re just in the midst of the last desperate attempts of the enemy to maim us on his way down. And the same goes for parenting. We really need to repent of this “What if I ruin my kids?” mindset. The battle belongs to the Lord. We parent trusting that he will work all things together for good. And we need to repent of the idolatry that makes us masters of our kids’ fates.

Here are all the posts in our adoption series:

  1. Getting Real About Adoption
  2. Loving the Unlovable
  3. Sin in the Adopted Child
  4. Support for the Adoptive Parent
  5. Broken-Hearted Parents
  6. Some Clarifying Thoughts on Our Adoption
  7. Examining Adoption Resources (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 1)
  8. Normal and Healthy? (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 2)
  9. A Matter of Foundations (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 3)
  10. The Sins of Neurology  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 4)
  11. Idol Swapping  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 5)
  12. Setting the Course  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 6)
  13. Another Way Forward (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 7)
  14. The Therapy Our Children Need
  15. Who Are You Calling Normal?
  16. Optional Adoption
  17. How to Adopt for Almost Free (And No Fundraising!)
  18. What About “Those” Kids?
  19. Trying to Make Them Lovable

Setting the Course

With all I’ve written about Empowered to Connect/The Connected Child up to now, I imagine that the question could be posed: “Well, who cares? What if it works? What if I’m following their methods and it’s making a difference?” On the outside, I will certainly affirm that good could come from using the ETC/TCC methods. I greatly appreciate the reminder to parent with compassion–anyone in our lives should be treated with compassion. I love the ideas behind simple, to-the-point instructions. I think setting a series of pre-taught, rehearsed language is helpful in stressful situations.

In short, I’m sure following their methods will help. As one Amazon reviewer said, “the book has some good suggestions. Things that any parent should be doing….being positive with your child, using eye contact, shutting off the TV, spending time with your kids, understanding their past, etc.” TCC/ETC is by no means a big bowl of ridiculous advice–it’s helpful and engaging and highly empathetic to the struggles we adoptive parents face.

It’s the course set by TCC/ETC that concerns me. I’ve already criticized the resources for having a shaky foundation and advocating a subtle form of idolatry. Even if you disagree with me in my questioning of the neurological misunderstandings they present, it really doesn’t change much. These resources are not grounded in Jesus and subsequently aren’t aiming at him either.

This is a problem of trajectory. When there are two lines starting at a single point, at very first, it’s difficult to see the difference between the two as they move toward their goal. But with time, the gap becomes wider and wider, until the point that it’s clear that one of the lines is veering way off target.

So, I look at these resources and I find myself unsurprised that so many have found them helpful and have clung to them as their lifeline, the miracle they’ve been waiting for. As my good friend Brian said, the authors are empathetic storytellers that connect with parents like Courtney and me who have agonized through the struggle of raising kids who don’t have a biological connection to us. They offer compelling answers to their odd behavior and why things don’t work right with them. Then they offer step-by-step solutions to fixing it and making the kids “whole”.

But that’s short-term gain, long-term loss. By addressing the kids this way, by trying to help remap their neurology and teach them to trust us before pointing them to God we’re already rewriting that neurology toward something other than Jesus. By refusing to see these kids holistically from any perspective geared toward eternity, it’s surely going to cause it’s own set of problems that we’ll need another book to figure out how to help our well-adjusted, “whole” adopted kids actually repent of the rampant selfishness and ungodly self-worth we taught them to have by finally pointing them to the selflessness of a crucified Savior and the only self-worth that can ever exist, which is being a child of God.

I’m aware that everything I’m saying hinges on each other. If you don’t buy my criticisms, then you certainly won’t see an issue with the trajectory set by ETC/TCC. But I think it’s all so attractive because of our desperate neediness in this whole adoption mess. The absolute sense of failure and bewilderment. The sense of “are we completely screwing these kids up?” The thoughts of “these kids would’ve been better off where they were than with us.” The end-of-the-rope desperation of “I just can’t do this anymore.” The whispered thought we can’t let anyone hear: “They are so difficult, so horrible, so disobedient, so manipulative, so different, so disruptive. I wish life could be the way it was before they came.” At the end of the terrible day where we’ve screamed or belittled or raged or wailed in failure, and there’s only one thought that screams in our head, “I hate them.” And then that morphs into guilt and self-loathing, “How could I think that? It’s not their fault that their lives are like this. They didn’t ask for this. I just can’t do this anymore. I’m too weak.”

And so, there we are, in our desperation, begging for some help, for some hope, for anything. And this attractive, empathetic book comes along that knows our struggle, that understands our pain. And not only that! It has the solution, the way forward,the step-by-step means of making it better. Hallelujah, our hope has arrived!

But it hasn’t. However well-intentioned TCC/ETC (and I know it’s well-intentioned), these resources don’t offer the hope that flows from eternity, the living water that only Jesus can offer. Our adopted kids are the products of sinful humanity, the brokenness that came from teeth breaking through the rind of sin’s fruit. And even apart from their horrible backgrounds, their little hearts were never innocent, but were “sinful at birth, sinful from the time [their] mothers conceived [them].” And us? Our parenting is riddled with the same brokenness and the same lack of innocence. We’re guilty of being terrible, horrible, no good, very bad people.

For us and for our kids (biological, foster, adopted, whatever), our only hope is this: “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

For the joy set before us, we endure the suffering of life, the effects of our sin, and–especially through adoption–the effects of the sins of others. And the weight of the crap of all of it grounds us into the dust of despair and weariness, till we feel we have nothing left. And in those moments (which sometimes seem to come day after day or even moment after moment), fixing our eyes on the neurology of our children and making sure to help them feel safe and building trust to make them a counterfeit version of whole will not lift the burden we’re carrying. Maybe those things will bring a little relief, like some morphine to help deaden the pain of the burst appendix. But at some point, you gotta let the surgeon hurt you worse by cutting you open so that you can actually heal, not just cover the pain for a while.

I don’t want to be a morphine addict. Nor do I want to jump from one pain killer to the next, as I build immunity to one after another and I have to keep searching for new methods of hiding the pain. I want the surgeon, scary though it be, to cut me open and fix me from the inside out. And I want the same thing for my kids, too. And even if it means more pain now, I know it means joy in eternity. The road is marked with suffering, but the city at the end will be a feast.

And I don’t want to miss it.

Here are all the posts in our adoption series:

  1. Getting Real About Adoption
  2. Loving the Unlovable
  3. Sin in the Adopted Child
  4. Support for the Adoptive Parent
  5. Broken-Hearted Parents
  6. Some Clarifying Thoughts on Our Adoption
  7. Examining Adoption Resources (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 1)
  8. Normal and Healthy? (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 2)
  9. A Matter of Foundations (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 3)
  10. The Sins of Neurology  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 4)
  11. Idol Swapping  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 5)
  12. Setting the Course  (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 6)
  13. Another Way Forward (reviewing The Connected Child, Pt 7)
  14. The Therapy Our Children Need
  15. Who Are You Calling Normal?
  16. Optional Adoption
  17. How to Adopt for Almost Free (And No Fundraising!)
  18. What About “Those” Kids?
  19. Trying to Make Them Lovable