Tis’ the Season

I used to hate winter. I hated the cold temperatures that made me feel like a prisoner in my own home and the gray and brown colors that seem to dominate everything. In the past couple of years, I’ve realized my feelings about the season have changed:

The low temperatures remind me of how cold and dead my heart is without Jesus, and somehow it brings me comfort when I feel the bite of a winter wind. I know that only love can thaw a frozen heart. Not the love of a sister, but of a Savior.

The neutral colors make me remember that I can’t keep God in a box. He created all colors, not just the vibrant ones, and he’s far more complex and beautiful than every one of them. The contrast of gray sky pops out the dark landscape, helping me see minute details I don’t notice otherwise. And I see that beauty often comes from darkness.

The bare trees show me inner beauty and how apart from it, outer beauty is pointless. I could look at branches and knots on wood for days. Few things are more intricate. But I want the leaves. They cover the flaws. I want people to praise the leaves I put on myself in the form of hair, makeup, and clothes, praying they don’t see all the yucky parts. I forget that the yucky parts, the ones that have withheld through the elements, the chips and strikes, the twists and bumps, the weaknesses, are the parts God uses to blossom me into looking more like him, becoming more seasoned and gorgeous from the inside out.

The quiet. The blessed, craved quiet of winter. When animals are sleeping, when neighbors are inside, when crickets stop chirping, and when the air itself seems to be sleeping. These moments are the times I most see the beauty in simply resting in Christ because he did all the work for me.

Winter helps me see that I’m incredible flawed. I’m the worst wife, mother, friend, and servant of all of mankind, completely dreary and dead on my own. Yet when God looks at me, he sees his Son, the most beautiful spring. I’m dormant, waiting for the life that’s mine, a life I did nothing to earn.

And I’ll sit here and marinate in the beauty of winter while I wait.

“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.”

‭‭1 Timothy‬ ‭1:15-16‬ ‭NIV‬‬

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

Idol Swapping

As a parent, I want one main thing for my children, whether bio or adopted: for them to know and be known by King Jesus. So any method I use as a parent has to fit inside that rubric to be helpful, especially when we start talking about healing and hope.

The Connected Child (TCC: the non-Christian source material) states their goal to be thus: “The good news is that there’s real hope for a better way. As research psychologists who specialize in child development, we have been delighted to watch adopted children and their families make tremendous gains once they begin using the philosophy and techniques outlined in this book. When parents really begin to understand this approach and put these methods into practice, they soon glow with delight at their blossoming child and newly connected family.” Thus the goal is happiness and connection, which are fine though not ultimate.

Somewhat better, Empowered to Connect (ETC) has this in their study guide: “We believe that as you work through these pages…you will better understand the philosophy and approach for the holistic model of parenting that we advocate, which has helped bring hope and healing to countless children and parents. As you do, our prayer is that you will develop a closer connection not only with your children, but also with your Heavenly Father.” Or perhaps this is more to the point: “By loving and nurturing our children in this holistic way we can give them the gift of “real hope”—an opportunity to heal and become whole—even as we teach them about and point them toward the source of everlasting hope in Jesus Christ.”

Hear what they’re saying: these kids are broken and need to be healed. But notice that the hope and the healing come before getting to Jesus. So who or what is doing the healing, if not God himself? “Fundamental to this real hope is an understanding that our children need a healthy and consistent balance of both nurture (affection, compassion, mercy) and structure (rules, limits, boundaries). Put another way, our children need a balance between connecting (nurture) and correcting (structure). As a result, the challenge is to identify what your child is really saying and what your child really needs. If we give a child structure (rules and correction) when she needs nurture (affection and mercy), we damage her ability to trust. If we give a child nurture when she needs structure, we limit her ability to grow. Therefore, we must learn to see our children and understand what they need in all of their being.”

Where’s the hope? Look at all the “we’s”: the hope is in us, as parents, as we try to make our kids whole.

And that, my friends, is idolatry. As the old hymn says, “What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.”

You see, because it’s so subtle, it’s easy to read the Christian veneer and think this is good, God-centered stuff. But it’s not. The only one who heals is Jesus. The only one who makes broken people whole is Jesus. And if we think that we have to fix people–child or adult–before we bring them to Jesus, then we’re placing ourselves in God’s place. We are setting ourselves up as an idol–on purpose! This is why I even bothered to make the point about normal and healthy: ETC & TCC are all about making our kids normal, so that we can then give them Jesus.

From ETC: “Out of this spontaneous, affectionate, connected dance between parent and child, this little one develops trust in the knowledge that his parent truly cares for him. In these arms of nurturing love, this child learns who he is, the meaning of unconditional love and his heart is being prepared to understand the eternal love of God.”

No! His heart is already prepared to understand the love of God. “The heavens declare the glory of God.” “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” Our kids do not need to pass through us to get to God the Father.

You see, all humans are dead in their sins and trespasses, even children. Thus, all of us are chasing after idols. The idols of the “at-risk” child might be a different set of idols, but they are still just worthless idols. If our goal is to get our kids to trust us, so that they trust God the Father, all we’ve done is say, “Get rid of those idols of control (or eating or manipulation or fear or anger or shutdowns or whatever) and replace them with Daddy and Mommy. Once we’ve done that, then you’re ready for God.”

That’s swapping idols. And I don’t want my adopted (or bio!) kids to swap idols. I don’t want to be their god. I want to over and over and over and over again point them to the one, true, and living God, the creator of the universe. I want to show them how he sent his Son to be the perfect Lamb of God, the great King who makes all things right and good. I want to love them and nourish them and cherish them, while always pointing them to the only one that will truly love them and nourish them and cherish them. And you know why this distinction, which might sound like splitting hairs, is so important? Because I will let them down. It will never work to point them to me first. I’ll be teaching them to believe a lie, which is the very definition of an idol. Their only hope is for me to continually point them to the only one worth trusting in.

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

A Letter to a Daughter of God

I wrote this quick note to Bill: “So blah today. This is the part that makes me feel like things will never get better. And that’s just it. Things won’t til Jesus comes back. So how do I make it until then with hope and joy?”

After three other lengthy and encouraging emails speaking truth, this was a fourth he wrote as though it was a letter from God to me:

 

“My child, my daughter, I made you and I know you and I love you. I know you hurt and struggle. I know you are crushed by the darkness around you. I know your life is not the life you planned for yourself nor the life you would’ve picked. But it’s the life I’ve given you because I love you. And you’re weak. Oh so weak. I know. I feel your weakness. My own son knew that weakness, too. And I shared that weakness along with him, just as I do with you. I’ve never left you, even on your darkest days. And I never will, no matter what. You are mine. You always have been and always will be.

 

“But I am jealous for you. Jealous for you to truly believe deep in your heart that everything that has happened to you, all of the things I’ve allowed to happen, all of the things I’ve orchestrated—all of them were for your good. And the pain and the weakness and the loneliness and the darkness, it’s for your good. Because you need me now more than ever before. You thought you knew me when you were younger—ha! You knew the edge of my pinky toe! But there’s more to know, there’s more to see, there’s more glory to find. Infinitely more. And I want to show it to you, to give you more of myself, to let you experience the joy of your master. But it’s hard for you, because as you’ve known me more, you’ve known more sorrow and darkness and sin than you ever knew before. Those things are distractions, shrouds that keep you from looking at me with the young eyes of faith. You have older eyes of faith now and they’ve been blurred by the worries of the world and the battles of the flesh. But I can heal eyes. I’ve done it before.

 

“Don’t be afraid. I am with you, all the time. I’m your daddy. And I’m letting you toddle along, watching you stumble and fall. But I want you to get up and try again. And again and again and again. I’m right here with you, ready to catch you, ready to help you. But I also want you to grow. And part of growing is learning the new steps, the new way of walking. And I’m teaching it to you, because I want you to walk on your own. But bumps and bruises always go with learning. I can heal those, too.

 

“I want you to remember something: I gave you that womb and those eggs. I gave you that husband. I gave you those children. I want you to know the love of a mom for her children, that wants to comfort them in their worry and hurt and fear. Because I have that same love for all of my children. I have that same love for you. I want you to know what it’s like to love someone else that way because I want you to know that you are loved that way. And yes, I’m still loving you even when you turn from me, when you chase after other things, when you fight for independence from me. It doesn’t please me. But I chuckle at it, too, because I know you’re struggling on the path toward maturity. It’s a long path, but I made the path and the footing is sure. And I can chuckle even when I’m displeased and I have to discipline you because my love is far bigger than your disobedience. There’s nothing you can do to change that.

 

“I gave you that house. I had it built 100 years ago in preparation for you. I had it ruined and burned for you. And I had it rebuilt and restored for you. I want you there. I also brought all of your neighbors, the black ones and the white ones, the poor ones and the rich ones. I knit this tapestry and I’m looking right at you in the midst of it. I know you love my creation—the trees and the hills and the birds and the sky and the rocks and the rivers. I did make all of those things and it fills my heart with delight to see your joy in them. But they don’t bear my image, they don’t carry my glory. But all those people who live around you, who drive around you, who are loud and different and scary to you—I made them, too. And I put them around you, because they’re in a deeper darkness than you have ever known. And the glory I gave them, the glory I gave all mankind, is more radiant than anything you’ll see in a mountain or a valley or a stream or a storm. Rejoice that you are surrounded by my creation. And let your light shine before them, because they need to see that light. There is much darkness there, much death and sin and decay. It’s as ugly to me as it is to you. Uglier, even, because I know fully what could be. But I love transforming ugliness into beauty. And I love letting my children help me in the kitchen to get my work done. I want you to help me, too. It’ll be hard, but you’ll never be alone. You’ll be doing my work and I will not forsake you.

 

“My daughter, you are mine. Nothing will change that. I want good for you, more good than you could ever ask for or even imagine. But it’s a joy that comes in trusting my methods and my ways, not a joy that can be bought or fashioned or found somewhere else. You are my daughter. I am your dad. Nothing will change that. Nothing will stop my love. Besides, your brother is right here with me, constantly pleading with me on your behalf. He is right now. I am doing everything for you, for your good. I always will.

 

“I love you.”

Babies: The Most Important Thing You Can Know About Raising Them

I have a hard truth to tell you about raising babies–you’re going to be terrible at it. No, really, I mean it. Not trying to tear you down here (some of you before you’ve even started), but I can’t do you any better favor than to tell you this truth. You’re in good company, though, because NO ONE has ever been any better than horrific at it. So hooray for fitting in!

Yes, yes, yes, there are many parents full of wisdom who have had much success with how their children turned out. Biographies upon biographies have been written by children about their amazing parents. But I promise you every single one of those parents have done multiple things that should have royally jacked up their children forever, sentencing them to a lifetime of therapy.

So why in the world were they successful?! One word–grace. Just grace. For some of them, it’s common grace given by God to all who are created in his image. For others, it’s grace through the work of his son, Jesus. This one is far more powerful and lasting. Either way, grace is the answer.

Some of you may be tempted to feel defeated by this truth. I, for one, am a control freak. I like earning everything that’s good for me. I don’t accept handouts well.

But this grace isn’t binding. It’s freeing. Freeing to know when we’re so sleep deprived we stop liking our baby for a while, when we yell at our spouse because we think everything’s their fault, when we leave our babies screaming in their crib longer than we should because we don’t feel like we can take it anymore, when we’re sure our child isn’t hitting milestones because we’re not giving them enough individual attention. In those moments, grace frees us. In those times of absolute weakness and horrific parenting, God looks at followers of Jesus as though we’re perfect parents because Christ was perfect for us and died in our place. Our verdict is “not guilty.”

If you believe you are a good parent or are going to be a good parent, this whole series will be a total waste of your time. There’s nothing I can offer you. For the rest of us, the ones who spend far too much time reflecting on how badly we fail, read on. There’s still hope.