Why You Think Your Kids Need Youth Group

Most of you probably know we met with our church in homes for 5 years here in Indy. In that time we didn’t have organized ministries, and our kids of all ages gathered with us in the living room.

One of the concerns that would come up every now and then would be our lack of a youth group. What about our teens and their need for interactions with kids their own age, others they can relate to?

We always decided against it. Part of that was simply how small our church was, but most of it was because Jesus didn’t make youth group part of his church. Once when he preached, there was a boy there who gave him his lunch to be shared with thousands of others. In Paul’s letters to both the Ephesians and the Colossians, he gives commands to the children–children who were present to hear the letter read. In other words, kids of all ages were right there as part of the church hearing the same message their parents were hearing.

Perhaps that’s not a strong enough argument for some. Some think that the gospel should be made more relevant or maybe even more entertaining to reach young people. But Jesus never made his gospel flashy in order to make it appealing to others or make them want to be part of it. He simply used words along with a righteous life, and people came by droves for this good news. The flashier we have to make the gospel, the more revealing the heart issue is. The issue that we don’t believe this salvation is the best news ever. We don’t rejoice enough in it alone because we don’t think we’re all that bad, that apart from this gospel, we’re doomed. And so we need to dress up the gospel, because it’s not good enough on its own.

Miriam almost drowned a year ago. We couldn’t get to her and were standing helpless in a creek watching our little girl bob under the water over and over. God miraculously sent two beautiful women who were close enough to her to jump in the water without hesitation and pull her to safety just in time. We didn’t respond with, “Man, we’re grateful. But it would have been better if you’d done it with some spotlights or amazing music. And actually, if you could provide pizza for her next time, too, we might even come back to thank you later.” No, we pummeled the soaking wet women with hugs, sobbing our gratitude because they had saved our girl’s life. We took their picture. I kept looking for them throughout the day because I just wanted to hug them one more time and thank them again and again. And I still pray for them and cry praising God for their placement and timing.

Good news is good because of the news itself, not because of the delivery method. And the good news of Jesus saving us from totally destruction and eternal death is the best news that could ever be. If we really got that, every other tool the church uses to try to impress us toward Jesus would just look dumb.

If what I’m saying is true, though, why do well-done youth groups seem to draw teens closer to God and to each other? Why do they produce a fire in youth that isn’t easily squelched?

It’s because these youth groups function more like the church than the church does.

I was raised in a healthy youth group. I still care deeply about those brothers and sisters with whom I did so much life. But here’s how that group worked:

I was blessed with a godly director who cared more about our spiritual well-being than how cool we thought he was. So we studied Scripture together, we prayed together, and we sang together.  So far, so good. Same as the adults.

But we also were in each others’ faces all the freakin’ time. Our youth director did plan fun, ridiculous activities. Q-tip wars, anyone? But outside the planned youth group times, we were almost together more. If something was wrong or I had news I wanted to share, I would call one of my youth friends (no texting in them there days). If a new movie was out I wanted to see, I’d invite one of the youth to go with me. Pretty much every Wednesday night a few of us would go out to eat for pizza or burgers, and we’d sing intentionally off-key to the radio on the way. If a friend was in need, we’d go as a group to their house to be with them. We called each other out when we saw sin and reconciled with each other over and over. The girls started a tradition on our own to meet at one of our houses at Christmas for breakfast and singing silly Christmas songs, complete with an ornament exchange. We knew everything about each other.

This, I believe, is the way the church is meant to function, regardless of age. But we’re a prideful, independent generation. We don’t like to have to lean on others or give up our important schedules to pour into the church or be poured into. Especially when we start families, we get very inward. The inner family becomes number one, and everyone else fits as is convenient. We forget to text others to check in on them or share our heart. We forget to share meals with those in our circle, to invite them to go with us to the museum. We cringe at traditions because we simply see them as another calendar entry. We forget that laugh-so-hard-you-cry inside jokes only happen with time together. Many of us function okay as a small family but forget we’re part of a much bigger family. This bigger family is the church.

Ironically, even though youth groups get this together-as-family aspect so well, youth groups aren’t realistic. After college, there will likely never be another time in life when your people will only be those who are the same age as you. And in my experience, we usually struggle to break down age barriers when reality finally kicks in. We still look for those who are in the same exact season of life as us. But God wants older men and women to disciple the younger ones. He wants younger ones to sit at their feet. He wants it all mixed up and jumbled together. I don’t believe he necessarily wants the church to have a strong youth group to grow young people in him. I do believe he wants the church to function like a youth group, but across ages and life stages and financial statuses.

I think youth groups feel needed mainly because we stink as a church to embrace anyone who isn’t majority. In my experience, that’s the married folks, preferably with kids. The core ministry of the church focuses around this majority group and marginalizes the rest. Those who aren’t in that category end up being outsiders in the church. Therefore, the outsiders feel the need for a group of outsiders like them and we create things like youth groups (and singles ministries and senior ministries and on and on). What we miss is that the church as a whole is supposed to be a whole bunch of outsiders joined together for support. When we only seek out those just like us and are unwilling to put in the hard work to become close–really close–to those who aren’t like us, we stop functioning as the church. And that’s one reason I think many youth groups do a better job looking like Jesus’s church.

It’s important here for me to say this post has nothing to do with convincing you that you should do away with youth groups or pull your kid out of one. Each church has it’s own needs, and often that includes a ministry that’s mutually beneficial for all the believers who are part of that local church, like youth groups. But I do challenge us to strive to function as a church more like a youth group, without holding back and totally in each other’s faces all the time for everything under the sun. If the church functioned more like this, maybe our youth wouldn’t crave an outside ministry just for them so much. And we wouldn’t think they needed it either.

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Skipping the Conversations

“Bill, I don’t know what to do. Every time my son needs correction, I try to sit him down, talk to him about his heart, read to him from the Scriptures and instruct him, ask him heart questions, then discipline him, pray with him, and assure him of my love. But every time I do, he just won’t listen and he fights against me and sometimes just leaves in the middle of it. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong!”

“Remind me again how old you little guy is.”

“He’s two.”

“Ah, yes, I know what the problem is: he’s two. All that talking and instructing and asking questions–he’s just too young. A time will come for that, but you’re just not there yet!”

I remember having this conversation with my friend several years ago. I was a few years ahead in parenting and freely felt I could tell him that while those steps are great, his son was simply not old enough and developed enough. I felt then (and still do) that there’s really not much conversation that needs to happen in those younger ages. You just don’t reason with a toddler. I mean, seriously. It’s painful to try. They certainly need instruction, correction, and assurance of love, but there’s not usually much more to it until they grow older.

The problem is that I had this conversation six years ago. And I said it knowing that “there would come a time” when conversations would increase and discipline would involve more dialogue than it ever had in the past. But now I have an eleven-year-old and somewhere along the way I missed my exit, still cruising on “How to Raise a Toddler” highway.

Which means that a whole lot of my parenting is a whole lot of my talking and my kids doing a whole lot of not talking.

Honestly, I’ve not transitioned well. And I really like that my kids are hitting that tween phase. But the reality is that I’ve transitioned poorly to having intellectually and emotionally capable kids who want to talk and process, and I don’t afford them the opportunity.

So, what does that mean? It’s funny, because it’s still in many ways new territory for me. Like Hermione Granger, when at loss I turn to books! I’m slated to read Age of Opportunity by Paul David Tripp soon and hope to follow that up with Everyday Talk by Jay Younts. And in these opportunities for talking and discussing, I know there are a few goals I want to accomplish:

  1. Hear from my kids and help them learn to talk through their sins, temptations, and troubles. This is something I’m particularly poor at even as an adult, so I want to train my kids how to speak openly and plainly about the deep matters of their hearts.
  2. Help them go to the Scriptures and understand how they apply to them. I’m certainly capable of doing this for them, but they’re at the age where I need to start handing them the reins. I want them to start making the link between their attitudes and behaviors to God’s Word, because I can’t meditate on the Word for them.
  3. Teach them how to process their sin against God and against others, and the appropriate responses for those sins. While this would certainly include seeking forgiveness from the one sinned against, what I’m particularly thinking about here is determining if any restitution needs to be made. I always find this tricky, because I don’t want the kids thinking they can atone for their sins (they can’t). Rather I want them to see that all sin has temporal consequences in addition to eternal ones–and they have a responsibility for those temporal consequences, whether that’s replacing something or offering a service or whatever. But I want to lead the kids into figuring this out instead of simply telling them.
  4. Begin the process (slowly!) of treating my kids like the adults they will be. Even though they’re not adults yet and still have years to go, there will come a day when they are neither under my watch nor under my authority. I want my children to see that my authority has always been derivative. Self-discipline and self-assessment will be the tools to remind them to follow the authorities that will come after me, and much more the authority of the triune God himself. This is really just a fancy way of saying I want them to learn obedience apart from my presence–because God is ever-present.

What about you readers out there? Those of you with tweens and older, how have you found ways to connect with your kids? What have you done to train them for the day they won’t be under your roof anymore? Do you have any resources you’d recommend?

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

Broken-Hearted Parents

In light of Court’s last post, I wanted to give an example of a friend—a brother—stepping up in our need and loving us when all we could see was our own failure. In a particularly low moment, I sent my pastor-elder Dan this text late at night as I was struggling with my own failures in trying to help direct this child after an especially challenging series of weeks with her. Here was my text: “Man. How do you love a kid who despises you and has only one life mission of worshiping herself–and thus continually coming up with new and varied ways to rebel? How can I love her when I despise her? What do I do when it feels like her heart is harder than the hardest stone and will never ever be turned to flesh?”

Dan heard my pain—not just this time, but every time I’d shared with him—and didn’t pounce. He didn’t latch onto my angry frustration at not being able to make a dent in steering my kid’s heart toward Jesus. He didn’t attack my clear self-righteousness and finger pointing. He saw the hurt and failure, and instead, emailed me this shortly thereafter (lightly edited):

My heart breaks for you, bro, really. I’ve hated that we haven’t been able to help you guys. I know things come up but also, we don’t know what to do and feel so ill equipped to really help. (Please don’t take that as us not being willing because we are completely willing to step in even though we feel like we don’t know what we’re doing.)

So first of all I want you to know that your daughter’s rejection of you is not a reflection of how “good” of a dad you are. Heck, look at Yahweh. Perfect Dad, providing just the right amount of “spoiling” vs. chores in the garden. The perfect amount of “family time” vs. free time. Perfect in EVERY way… boom! Rejection!!!  With Cain, God provided perfectly loving and wise counsel  which Cain rejected. Yahweh chose a people. Not a spectacular people of greatness but to the contrary and He adopted them to be His (see where I’m going with this ;)). He set His love on them and cared for them and provided for them but the norm for that people was rejection of their Father. But He kept pursuing them… HE would bless them with a good crop or pregnancy or some other blessing and they would run and praise Baal for it! The “dad” that used them and abused them and only took from them! The bastard that would leave them naked and beaten and he’s THE ONE THEY LOVED!!! Not the good Dad, the One that chose them for no other reason than to bring them in to be part of His family. But He didn’t give up on them. You know the  story… The cycles over and over… The relentless pursuit… The repetitive rejection… The ultimate rescue…

You know who we are in the story, bud. So the only way you’re going to love YOUR child that despises you is to be overwhelmed by Jesus’ love for you. I’m praying that for you right now as I type and my screen is a blur through my tears as I sob for you. Please, Holy Spirit, fill my brother with your love. Overtake him with the depth and width and height of your love. Help his heart break for his little girl who is rejecting him but far worse is rejecting YOU! Give him a love for her that is beyond comprehension because it’s rooted in a love that he received first. Use that love to melt her heart of stone.

I’m here for you brother, even if I don’t really know how to be. Please tell us. If it means taking the kids away sometimes or a combination of certain kids.

I love you. Be encouraged. You have not thwarted God’s plans and in fact He is working this for good. Hard to believe, right? Well, it’s true. Our Daddy’s electing love proves it day by day!

One final thought… Your little girl has had unthinkable things done to her by the people that were supposed to protect her. I’ve not dealt with abuse like that but my guess is that she has a mangled concept of trust, love, family, fun, etc.—a bunch of things we probably take for granted. I just say that to say that it could be a VERY long road but your hope is not in your daughter getting better. It’s that one day this will seem like a VERY light affliction because of the glory that will be revealed…

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

Sin in the Adopted Child

Adoption stinks. I’m not denying the beauty and redemption that can be part of it, but if we think of adoption like Snuggle the fabric softener bear, we’ve seriously missed the point. Adoption only happens because a child’s birth parents aren’t caring for them anymore. This may be a result of death, imprisonment, abuse, neglect, voluntarily surrendering parental rights, or yes, sadly, even false/over-the-top/unjust accusations of the parents.

Not exactly cause for a happy dance. And the kids know it.

So it’s probably needless to say that the children who have had to go through this have many broken emotions with a wider range than I could possible list in one post. My two newest are no exception. And from these emotions come a gigantic range of unhealthy behaviors.

The general way society and experts want us to deal with these behaviors is a mash-up of simply accepting the behaviors as part of the personality of the child and thus ignoring it, or if the behavior is physically harmful, redirecting and discussing, with the end goal of building self-esteem. Discipline should be kept to a bare minimum for these behaviors, and it’s questionable if it should happen at all.

Here’s how that would play out in one example (like a case study–fun!). Food issues are huge with many adopted children. Two of the more common reasons for this are because they were malnourished and live fearfully that they won’t eat the next meal, or that food was the only constant they had in the midst of utter chaos. In either instance, it’s easy for the children to scarf their food, talk about food constantly, eat more than they should, steal, or hoard.

Generally in this instance, you’d be told to simply keep providing as much food for them as they want until they eventually feel secure in your provision, or they begin to feel constants in other areas of their lives, all the while assuring them that they don’t have to worry anymore. You need to explain to them why they have these struggles, that it’s not their fault, and that there’s nothing wrong with them.

Here’s what you’re not supposed to say: Putting our hope in anything other than Jesus, even food, is a sin.

Lest that sound harsh, hear me out. I do not think the moment our children walk in the door for the first time and show unhealthy behaviors that we jump in their faces yelling, “SINNER! SINNER! SINNER!” while sticking our tongues out. We need to sympathize with them, show more grace than we’ve maybe ever shown, understand this is going to be a long process, be quick to display patience, and most importantly, remember your own sinfulness and how much of you is a work in progress. But that can’t be the end of the story. We can’t brush idolatry under the rug simply because we don’t want to make a kid feel bad. We can’t deny the lordship of Jesus for our children because it might be emotionally damaging–as if such a thing were even possible!

I used the topic of food as my example purposefully, and it’s not just because my two newest children do in fact struggle in this area. I was raised in a healthy, stable, two-parent home, and I turn to food instead of Jesus daily. I know it’s a sin, I know it’s despicable, and yet I continue to do the things I hate. I use this example because I want to show this is not about “telling our kids how it is and to just stop it.” It’s about helping them see a Jesus who is much more worthy to crave than anything else. It’s about walking with them each moment of the day to show them truth and shine light on darkness, much like my church, friends, and family do with me concerning my food obsession.

The community who hold me accountable don’t, however, tell me that my behaviors are okay. Because they aren’t. They don’t avoid my sin to make sure I don’t feel bad about myself. They don’t let me sin a little because it’s been a life-long struggle and a little sin never hurt anyone. Because a little sin in the Garden of Eden destroyed a whole world. They speak the truth to me in love and walk this hard road right alongside me.

I believe the same process needs to happen with our children who have had the crappiest lives, the worst upbringing, and who likely have no real clue who this Jesus is. Don’t coddle them. Most have been lied to their whole lives. Show them dignity by letting them know the truth. Tell them that what they’re doing is sin against a righteous God. Discipline them lovingly and appropriately when they continue to chase after cheap idols like food or sex or violence or pride or hate or lies or jealousy or greed or, yes, even self-esteem. Know that they won’t change maybe for many years, but walk the arduous, long path with them, knowing you have a mediator walking with you who will intercede on your behalf to the Father until the day he comes back for us.

The best hope we have to offer in the face of whatever baggage these kids bring with them is this: Jesus is better.

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

Loving the Unlovable

“For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.” (Ephesians 1:4-6)

The richness of this passage is one of the main reasons Bill and I began the adoption process. While were still his enemy and completely deserving his righteous judgement, Christ died for us. After his death was the resurrection, giving life to those who put their hope and trust in Jesus Christ as their Savior. With that life comes almost the most unbelievable part–we are now joint-heirs with Jesus, adopted as sons and daughters of God himself. So now, the enemies of God inherit the very kingdom of that same God, as his beloved children.

If that’s been done for me, how can I possibly not turn around and adopt children far more innocent than I am? How can I not give them an inheritance, a family, and a true belonging they wouldn’t have otherwise?

So we adopted. We were excited. We love children, wanted more, and couldn’t wait to add to our numbers. It was going to be great.

Except it wasn’t.

As much as we love children generally, we quickly realized just how much we prefer our bio kids to other kids. Our two new children looked different, smelled different, sounded different, and acted very, very different. And to be completely honest and put myself out there in a terrifying way, we didn’t and still don’t love them in the same way we love our original six.

I hate saying it more than almost anything else. Because they’re beautiful. Because they can’t help the way they were raised or the terrible things that happened to them. Because I should be able to extend the same grace and love to them that’s been extended to me. But as of today, my heart still isn’t there. I’m a sinner who doesn’t really believe the truth of the passage quoted above. I think I deserve my inheritance because I’ve worked so hard to earn God’s love, and in the same way I expect my children to work hard to earn my affection, too.

It’s despicable, and I have no defense.

But I want to be real. I want to let those of you who are considering adoption in on the secret I didn’t know beforehand–most of the adoptive parents I’ve talked to feel the same way in the beginning, some for years. The biggest exception here seems to be newborn adoption or adoption before the couple had biological children. Otherwise, most (not all) have struggled in this area at least for a time.

Honestly, though, even if I’d known, I’m sure in my pride I would have believed I was better than all of them. I know the gospel, unlike them. I have a ginormous heart for children, unlike them. I’m a better parent than they are. I have more experience. Yada yada yada. Once again, I’ve gotten to eat a big slice of humble pie.

My love for them is growing on the graph. You know the graph that dips and rises all over the place but is slowly rising over all? That would probably best describe it. At one point early on, I almost wouldn’t have been upset if something had fallen through and they wouldn’t have ended up as official Bells (yes, I’m determined to keep it real as hard as this is to type), but now I’d be devastated. Some days I feel like I could eat them up or hold them for hours on end. Some days mama bear comes out if one of them has had their feelings hurt. All this is confirmation to my heart that God is still working and perfect and loves them and loves me and won’t stop knitting us together.

But it’s a daily battle. Truly the hardest thing I’ve experienced. I can’t stand loving them differently. I’m impatient and want all the lovey dovey feelings to come now.

But I’m also more grateful than I can say that those feelings have yet to come.

I’m grateful because the passage above has hit me harder than ever before. If I’m having this difficult of a time loving little ones who have done nothing to be my enemy, how much greater of a love have I received from a God I have denied, spit upon, hated!? He made me his beloved child, adopted me as his own, while I hated him. He’s lovely, I’m unlovable, yet he loved me in a far deeper way than is possible to imagine. And he did it according to the pleasure of his will.

And because of that vast unfailing love, I can trust that he won’t abandon me, won’t stop growing me up to look more and more like him, won’t let his girl continue in sin. I can trust that he loves all my children perfectly where I love imperfectly, and he’ll grow them, too, in spite of their mother’s failures. He’ll even use my failures they see to show them more and more to never put their hope in anyone or anything besides him. And he’ll continue to show all of us that even the sin that stops us from loving well has been paid for on the cross, that we’ll never be able to do it on our own, and he’ll give us reason to rejoice in him once again.

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

Getting Real About Adoption

A year and a half ago, God placed two new children in our lives to adopt. A true answer to prayer, even prayers the Spirit was praying on my behalf that I didn’t know about.

Adoption is beautiful. Incredibly beautiful. And many books, articles, blogs, sermons, and conferences talk about it–the need for it, how Christians are called to it, the redemptive glory. All true.

There’s also the other side of adoption–the ugly brokenness. I figured I would have the courage to talk about this side a few years down the road, looking back giving wisdom.

But that’s not real. It’s not now. It doesn’t fit the theme of this blog. I’ve been silent because I’m scared. Scared to be too open, scared my son and daughter may read this in the future and be hurt by things I may say, scared to be corrected, scared of exposure.

Oh faithless woman! I forget so quickly how God is most glorified in my weakness because he gets to show off his strength. How the more sin I expose, the more his grace abounds. How God may use my struggles to encourage the heart of those mamas and daddys out there who are treading in the same waters we are, barely able to keep their noses above the surface. How he’s able to use the words of a sinful mother to teach and grow her precious children, that their hope won’t be in her but in Christ alone, that these words may even help them through their own adoption journey years down the road.

So over the next few weeks, I’m going to expose my heart, failings, and opinions about our adoption thus far. I’ve not read a single book on the topic in entirety, not attended a class beyond what was required for certification, and have barely even spoken to other adoptive parents for advice. This is simply a woman who had children she didn’t know thrown into her lap unexpectedly, who’s been struggling to survive the last year and a half as a result. This is me being real.

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

Remember Who the Enemy Is

Bill and I watched the final movie of the Hunger Games series last night. In case you’ve been in a hole the past few years and have no idea the premise, here are the basics in one sentence: kids are forced to kill kids each year in a game in order for the president (President Snow) to keep everyone under his thumb. Bet you feel all fuzzy inside now.

One of the themes that comes up in the second book is, “Remember who the enemy is.” In other words, the people you’re killing are slaves just like you. Though you don’t see the enemy (the president), all of this is his doing. So let everything you do be to fight him, not necessarily the other contestants.

All I can think when I hear this is, “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.” (Ephesians 6:12)

When we woke up this morning and talked to our kids, we found out one child took the opportunity of having babysitters last night to build sin upon sin. And I got ticked. Originally, my anger was directed at my daughter, but when I recalled this passage, my anger became greater.

But not toward my daughter.

Anger at a devil who has been defeated but is raging against Jesus in his final days. Anger that he still has such a hold of my little girl who has already been through more than most adults I know.

So this morning I’ve been praying. Praying for my daughter’s tender heart which is as easily deceived as her mother’s. Praying for Jesus to save her so one day she can cry out, “You put forth your best effort. You thought you had me because of my past, because of my failure, because I deserve nothing better than you. But oh, you fool! You can’t separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus! My salvation doesn’t come from my works but from the grace of God alone through the blood of his Son, and that same Son defeated you already when he was raised from the dead. You’re so pitifully powerless that I mock your effort. I’m his, not yours.”

Our battle isn’t against our children. Let’s pray for our children, who, like us, are so easily swayed by lies of one far worse than President Snow. Don’t forget who the enemy is, and rejoice in the power of the Victor.