So Loved 

Yesterday my five youngest children and I made a one-day, out-of-town road trip and I was the driver. It was a very beautiful and happy day spent with lots of folks we love. 


Naturally, on the drive home I was doing a lot of thinking and pondering. Things like, never ever give up on the possibilities of what God’s love can accomplish. His love is the most powerful force on earth and can change situations, people’s hearts and the direction of a person’s life. I needed that reminder. Maybe you did too. 

Another truth that is stamped on my heart was verified yesterday. There’s an old adage that says you can’t pick your family. I’d like to firmly disagree. Yes you can. Marriage is a perfect example. A choice to be family is made. Adoption is another example. A choice to become family is made. But there are other examples as well when no judge declares anything at all. Instead hearts declare belonging to one another because we so love them. 

You may not can choose who you are related to by blood, but you do get to choose your family. I’ve chosen well. Not only by marriage and adoption, but also by relationship. By caring and loving and praying and connecting and communicating and hoping and helping and sometimes the biding of time, by so loving them. 


During the next few weeks I will be in four different states visiting family. I will see two dozen family members. I am blood related to less than half of those, only nine to be exact. And yet, they are all my family. 

How can that be? I’ll tell you clearly how. Because love trumps blood, love trumps hate, love trumps differences,  love trumps distances, love trumps circumstances and love even trumps the law of the land sometimes. Relationships are formed when commitment is made, time is invested and choices are lived out. I so love them. 

Today I am loving the beauty of love. The choices we make, the lives we live, the paths we walk and yes, oh yes, the families we have!

Below is a photo of a few of my most beloved family members. I don’t share a single drop of blood with any of them. What we do share is love and let me assure you I so love them!


Below is another photo. This one is a photo of my mother and sister with whom I share blood. Guess what? We are family, not because of blood but because of relationship, precious memories, laughter and the bonds of love! I so love them. 


I can’t conclude my thoughts without adding this. The MOST important family decision you can ever make will be to become a part of the family of God. Choosing to be adopted into His family, as His child, joint-heirs with Jesus Christ will be the most life-altering decision you ever make. You know why? Because of love, once again, because of love. He so loves us. 

Friends Matter

We all know the importance of family in our lives and the tremendous impact that family has upon us, both good and bad. But there is another extremely important group of folks that we get to choose, unlike who we are related to. It is our friends. 

Our pastor has said many times ‘show me your friends and I’ll show you your future’. And every time he says that I say AMEN! It’s the truth, our friends can change the course of our lives. 

The Bible has a LOT to say about friends. Parents have SO much to say about friends. Teens are determined to defend their friends. Even to a pre-school child, friends matter. Relationships can be ruined by the wrong friends. You can have opportunities that you wouldn’t have otherwise with the right friends. 

What is a friend anyway? That word like many others has been diluted to the point of little value. Like the word love for instance. We say we love tacos and we love a song and we love all kinds of stuff and people. We have school-friends, FB friends, work-friends, internet-friends, church-friends and some of these friends we hardly even know. 

A true friend is someone you can share your dreams with and know they won’t laugh at you. A real friend is someone you can confess your failings to and know they won’t shun you. A genuine friend is someone who will hold you accountable while holding you up. A friend worth having is one whom you will call when you’re in trouble and need help. 

A friend can be a great treasure. They might loan you a twenty, watch your kids or listen to your troubles. They may help you with your project, tell you when you’re wrong and love you anyway. They can encourage your heart and challenge your soul. Friends matter. 

A friend can also bring you low and urge you to do things you know are wrong. They can flame the fire of your dissatisfaction and justify your bad choices. They might insist that you join them in the pigpen and wallow in the mud with them so you are as stinky as they are to prove you are their friend. 

Consider who you have surrounded yourself with today. Who do you exchange ideas with and have discussions with? Who are you allowing to influence and impact your future, your family and your choices? 

Perhaps we should all consider our friends carefully and the consequences that may result. Friends matter. 

Rewrites

I’m admittedly new to this author adventure. So, I’m learning a LOT along the way, so very much. Sometimes I learn what not to do by doing the wrong thing and realizing that did not work. I’ve decided that writing a book is a lot like living your life. Here is what I mean. 

I had a lot of down time as I drove about ten hours yesterday returning from a mini-vacation in Florida with my girls. We enjoyed ourselves so much and even though it was very windy, enjoyed our time on the beach. It was so windy that there was a good bit of sea foam. There were dragon kites being flown and kite-boarding being enjoyed. The wind is a powerful force. It can move the water, it can lift a person off the ground if they capture it, it can also, suddenly, change directions. 

  
My daughters both slept a good bit and the van was quiet and I began to think about my current book that I’m working on. It is the second of a trilogy all of which I’ve already written in first draft form. As I contemplated the rewrites that needed doing and the changes I wanted to implement, I came to a startling conclusion. I need to completely change the ending of book two. I am so fond of the way it ends at present that this is a big deal for me. As a matter of fact, it’s the perfect ending to lead to the third book. 

So, why am I rewriting it? Because the winds have changed directions. Because I’ve decided to include a fourth book which must be inserted between book two and three. This changes everything. This means a lot of work. This means extra effort, rearranging, going back to the storyboard, remapping, etc. I don’t have to do it, nobody can make me do it, I choose to rewrite the ending so that I can expand my story. If I am to include this fourth book, a rewrite is required. 

Ok, not sure if you followed all of that, it doesn’t really matter if you did or not. Here’s the point I want you to take away with you today as you read this. 

Life has a way of demanding rewrites. 

Just about the time you have it mapped out in your brain and rather counting on things ending up a certain way, WHAM! Out of no where, things go awry. 

I bet you that almost immediately a moment came to mind as you read that. Maybe it was a grievous loss of a loved one. Perhaps it was a life-altering disease. It could have been a divorce, a prodigal child, a career change, a terrible decision on your part or the spiteful behavior of a person you thought you could count on. Whatever it is, it has changed everything, including the ending of your story. 

Now, you may not have chosen this calamity, this curve ball and you may feel a bit disoriented that things aren’t turning out as you expected they surely would. But you do have choices. You get to decide whether you will stubbornly stand your ground and insist things must be how you are convinced they should be or whether you are willing to rewrite and create a beautiful new story. 

Y’all, listen carefully to your heart. If it is hurting it may be angry, it may be sad, it may be sorrowful. Listen to your heart and then when you are done listening, roll up your sleeves and get busy. Maybe go back to the original story board and move some moments around. Write your rewrites in pencil, just in case you need to make more changes later. Rethink what really matters. Consider what can be changed and what, no matter how much you wish you could, can not be changed. Then, find your courage and find a new ending or a new beginning or a new twist in the story of your life and let the rewrites begin. 

After all, rewrites can be an opportunity to improve your story, make it better and more complete. Today is your opportunity. Today is the day you can begin again, head a new direction, write a different ending. 

  

God’s Voice in a Child’s Ear

Adults,whether they themselves have been awakened spiritually or not, often find it difficult to accept that a child can hear from God. The spiritual testimony, experience or opinion of a child may be deemed sweet, yet doubtful or dismissed without consideration. I think that this is a result in large of a general attitude that sees children as lacking value, being disposable, incapable of profound thought and basically a burden. Throughout history children could be sold or seized to pay a debt. They were found in workhouses, orphanages, city dumps, abused, neglected or ignored.

Thankfully, times have changed. Unfortunately, times aren’t so different for children. If we aren’t careful old attitudes may attempt to surface as we deal with the children in our lives. As parents we may struggle with impatience as we urge them towards maturity and adulthood. We may be tempted to make them more adult-like by the way we dress them, the activities we allow them to pursue, the expectations we have of them. Some children today have busier schedules than their harried parents. Some parents today live vicariously through their children as they involve them in endless activities.

Childhood should be celebrated and enjoyed. Children should be cherished and treasured. Children should be allowed to have independent thoughts and opinions. Children should be nurtured and given opportunities to grow. Children should be consistently and fairly disciplined. Children should believe that they have a voice and that someone is listening. Children should be treated with respect and expected to treat others likewise.

Our foster care system is a sad example of the plight of children in modern day. Children are too often trapped in an emotional limbo for years as they wait for courts and social workers and birth families to develop a plan for their future. It is a powerless place to be. It leads to anger issues, emotional wounds, trust issues, lack of ability to properly bond and damaged self-images. I don’t want to focus on the dysfunction of our foster care system. I will say plainly that it is broken and I doubt that anyone would argue that fact. What I do want to focus on is this, it doesn’t have to be that way. A child who is displaced from their birth family, whatever the reason may be, can still feel valued and loved and empowered.

Lots of people raise children that they did not birth. One of my favorite Biblical accounts of such a relationship is that of Eli and Samuel. During my years of infertility, Samuel’s mother, Hannah, became one of my favorite women in Scripture. I related to her. As she struggled with shame from not being able to produce a child, I related. As she prayed and asked God to intervene, I related. When God gave her a son after longing for one for years, I related. When she gave that son back to God, I related.

One of my sons became a real life ‘Samuel’ when a judge unexpectedly ordered he must be returned to his birth mother. Our time of separation could be measured in days and ended in our reunification, I am glad to report. But, I understood then and many other times how it felt to lose a child I loved. I believe that is what caused me to have such compassion towards the birth families of the dozens of children I fostered and the seven whom we adopted. But, I digress with my thoughts.

What I really want to tell you today is that children can know God, experience God, hear from God and have their own relationship with God. God can be just as real, perhaps even more so, to them as to you. I believe that their uncluttered minds and innocent hearts are especially sensitive to God. Look at this verse where the boy Samuel had his first encounter with God. According to Jewish Historian, Josephus, he was about twelve years old.

“Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The Word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. A third time the Lord called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” Then Eli realized that God was calling the boy. 1Samuel 3:7,8

Eli was raising Samuel. Samuel had been being trained in service at the Temple. He had been exposed to the things and ways of God, but he did not yet know the Lord himself. Samuel would become a great spiritual leader in his lifetime. Here we see him as a boy and we are privileged to read an account of how his spiritual journey began. Samuel experienced God at a young and tender age. It was not because of a perfect upbringing or a privileged lifestyle. It was the result of a quiet heart and ears that could hear the voice of God.

If you are a Christian parent, you should teach your children what you know bout God. You should share your own experiences and testimonies. You should live in a way that demonstrates your faith properly. But, even more so, you need to do other things. Give them opportunity to have a quiet heart as opposed to a rushed and anxious heart that hastens to the next thing, whatever that thing may be. Pray that their spiritual eyes will be opened so that they can see for themselves. Finally, when they share their moments with God, give credence to them. Don’t be condescending. Don’t imply that their experience can’t be legitimate because it is different than yours. Offer gentle guidance and wisdom, but always be willing to listen.

The most empowering gift you can ever give to your child is permission to know God personally and intimately. Sure, keep their bodies safe, their minds educated and their lives healthy. That’s important as well. But, nothing will shape and form the future of a child like knowing the God of this universe wants a relationship with them and has a purpose for their life. It changes everything. It changes them, their outlook, their dreams, their goals, their plans and our world.

  

Not Necessarily

The thing about adoption is that every story is it’s own story that is just as unique as the people involved. People seem have this uncontrollable urge to box people up and categorize them. For some folks it’s a simple method of skin color. Further divisions include gender or education or economics. It’s really quite amazing the methods people can develop to separate and judge and criticize other human beings.

I never realized how much I detested this common practice until I became a mother. “Do NOT try to fit my child into a box!” I wanted to shout to the world! Do not attempt to determine who they are now nor who they will be in the future by your definitions and limitations.

This applies to adoption as well. I’m constantly seeing opinions concerning the people in what is referred to as the adoption triad. This would be birth parent, adoptive parent and adopted child (adoptee). This month, being National Adoption Month, I’ve read a lot of differing points of view. Sadly, it appears that this tendency to categorize has found it’s way into the adoption community. I have a few things to say about that and this is my blog, so I think I will have at it.

There are some who are indicating that an adoptive story can only rightly be shared by the adoptee themselves as it is their story alone. I disagree. While I am very careful to respect their privacy, the adoption of my children is also my story. This is a testimony to the fact that we are connected, bonded and blended as a family. Our stories do not stand independent of each other. We have been woven together, intertwined and as a result, we have a story that includes one another.

I believe it is these retched attempts at categorizations that discourage many folks from exploring the option of adoption. All foster children are like this. All black children are like this. All birth mothers are like this. All adoptions are like this.

A birth mother is not necessarily a powerless victim no more than she is necessarily a heartless villain. They are people, human beings with unique challenges and struggles and strengths. They do not fit in a box no matter how tidy that would make things. Now, substitute that word birth with foster or adoptive or step and the same applies. We are not necessarily anything except what we choose to be.

Closed adoptions, open adoptions, foster adoptions, familial adoptions, international adoption, domestic adoptions, older child adoptions, private adoptions, infant adoptions, sibling group adoptions, so many different possibilities. Each with their own unique story.

I can tell you my experiences, you can tell me yours, but they are not necessarily the story that the next family being formed through adoption will experience. Here’s the bottom line, adoption is a beautiful way to build a family. There are no guarantees about when and how that will happen no more than when a family is being built by birth.

When it comes to my children whom I have adopted, they won’t be easily categorized and I’m glad. They have tasted the freedom and power of choices. They can choose how they talk and act and live. They aren’t defined by the color of their skin or the area of the United States that they live in. They won’t be limited because they each experienced foster care. They won’t climb into a box and be labeled so that sweeping generalizations can be more easily applied.

One thing that I have learned as an adoptive mother of seven, is that each child is an individual with their own personality and their own reactions and their own voice. What they say with words or actions may not necessarily be what you expect to hear.

One of my young adult sons had fire in his eyes a couple if weeks ago when recounting to me a conversation with a co-worker. They want to know if one of our other sons, close to his age was really his brother. He said he was careful to be polite and explained that being a real brother was not about shared blood. But, the person would not hear him and insisted that blood relation was the only ‘real’ relation. My son was infuriated at the closed mindedness and said to me, “What’s wrong with people?” He felt as if he were being challenged that he couldn’t possibly be satisfied with a family like ours. I told him that people just don’t understand because a most people have never experienced a family like ours.

Does blood relationship mean true relationship? Not necessarily.
Does adoption mean a child was unwanted? Not necessarily.
Does adoption involve a lot of money? Not necessarily.
Do birth siblings always need to be kept together? Not necessarily.
Does every birth family need to be preserved? Not necessarily.
Does every adopted child long to meet birth family some day? Not necessarily.
Does an adoptive parent feel threatened if their child shows an interest in their birth family? Not necessarily.
Does every foster child struggle with behavioral issues? Not necessarily.
Does every adoptive family look like a Hallmark movie? Not necessarily.
Does there have to be an open relationship between birth and adoptive families? Not necessarily.

Oh my word, I could go on and on and on. Do you know why? Because when it comes to families, there are as many variations as there are individuals involved. They’re like snowflakes. Beautiful and rare and delicate and lovely to behold on their own but a force to be reckoned with when pressed together firmly.

That’s about where we are as a family right now, pressed together firmly. Try to separate us and we will likely disintegrate, form us together and we can strengthen each other. No matter how your family was assembled, don’t allow people to disassemble you into their little boxes of judgement.

I can’t guarantee that your adoption experience will be like mine. I can’t guarantee that being a parent will stretch you beyond what you thought was possible. I can’t guarantee you that your children (adopted, birth, step, foster) will appreciate what you do, love you in return or make the right choices. I can’t guarantee that your heart won’t be broken.

All I can guarantee you is you’ll never know until you try. You’ll never have the chance to experience the joy nor the pain. You’ll never have the chance to succeed nor fail. You’ll never have the chance to lose what you are not willing to fight to gain.

Well, on the other hand, you might be better off playing it safe, but…. Not necessarily.

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Do You Love Them the Same?

One of the most common questions about adoption is will I be able to love them the same? The implied but often unspoken completion of the inquiry is ‘the same as a child you have birthed’.

When I thought of writing about this subject I hesitated. I said out loud to myself, “Easy, Stephanie.”. This is after all, a tender subject. As a mom who never completed a birthing experience I may be a bit one-sided. I won’t argue that point. There are plenty of moms who have experienced both who can speak from their own experiences. I can only speak from mine.

Rather than try to do what I can’t, I will stick to what I know. I will share what it is like to love a child who wasn’t carried in my womb, a child born to a different woman with a different ethnicity, a different medical and biological back ground. I will try to express how I love a child that possibly has memories I don’t share and experiences that I am not a part of or possibly aware of. I will in the end admit to you that no, I do not love them the same. I can not possibly love them the same. I do not love them the same as you love your child. You can not love your child the same as I love my child. Each love is unique and each parent/child relationship is different.

I have adopted three children that came to me as infants. They were two days old, two weeks old and two months old when they became our foster children. By the time we were able to adopt them I loved them so desperately I’m not sure I can describe it. You see, I couldn’t help but love them from the moment they were placed in my arms as I fed them and changed their diapers and rocked them to sleep. They were innocent, helpless, beautiful babies. Yet, as time passed and as my love grew deeper, it also grew desperate. In the recesses of my mind the clock ticked reminding me that as foster children my time as their mom was temporary. In each case, it was years before we could adopt and those were years of a desperate love. When we adopted and that relationship became forever, the exuberant love of ecstatic jubilation we experienced, I can’t fully describe. The relief, the gratitude! Oh what a love!

I’m not sure many people can relate to that level of love. Perhaps if your child had a life-threatening illness that caused that same ominous clock to tick, wondering if your time with them was limited, then you can relate and you can say that you loved your child with the same desperation. Otherwise, I doubt it.

I have four children that would be considered older child-adoptions. One was 3-1/2, one was 6, one was 7, one was 8 years old. I would not love them the same. How could I? I had lost years of opportunities to bond. I had been robbed of first steps and first words and first lost teeth and first boo-boos and first of so many things. They had been robbed of healthy loving relationships that would have them achieving milestones on time and developing emotionally as they should.

All four of these children came to us as foster children but, they came with adoption as the plan. The commitment was made to make them a part of our family forever before we knew them at all or knew them well. This love was different. This was a risky love. A love of hope. A determined love. It’s a good thing it was a determined love for determination was required. Love requires trust. They had learned (especially by 6,7 &8) that many adults weren’t trustworthy. As foster parents of 45 we had learned that many children aren’t trustworthy. They had learned that adults may betray you, abuse you and abandon you. We had learned that kids might lie profusely to you, reject you and refuse your efforts.

So, here we were, having to unlearn and relearn about trust and love. If we had not been determined we would have likely given up on each other. But, we had this element that wasn’t present with our other three adoptions. We had chosen each other. They wanted us and we wanted them. There were grief issues and loss issues and attachment issues. There were trust issues and honesty issues and manipulation issues. We had to forgive a lot. We had to forgive people from the past and we had to forgive each other and we had to forgive ourselves. But, we shared a special love, a determined love that held us together when we felt like we were falling apart. No, I don’t love them the same. But, I also don’t love them less. Can you understand?

I’m not sure you can relate unless you have been there. Perhaps if you have loved a child simply because you chose to and turned your whole life upside down to love them with no guarantee they would love you back, you can relate. Perhaps if you made yourself vulnerable by committing to what seemed an impossible and flawed love only to see it flourish and grow and blossom into a love like you’ve never seen or realized was possible, perhaps then, you can understand this determined love. Otherwise, I doubt it.

Can I tell you something? Not every adoptive parent loves their children like I love mine. Not every birth parent loves their children like you do yours. No matter, how wonderful their love is, it is not the same as mine or yours.

If you are considering adoption and looking for some guarantees, let me give you a few. Love is risky. Love makes you vulnerable to extraordinary pain. Love will turn your life upside down. Love will cost you plenty. Love is also the most powerful force in the universe. Love makes the impossible possible. Love gives you opportunity to experience extraordinary joy. Love will give your life meaning and purpose. Love will reward you with benefits that are beyond measure.

Do I love them the same? No, not the same as you. Not the same as each other, not the same from day to day. Our love is growing and increasing and being stretched to the limits every single day. It is a love of desperation and commitment and determination. It is not easy to love. However, this I know, it is easier to love than not to. Love is not to be compared or put on a scale or graded. Love is to be embraced and celebrated and lavished in extraordinary, risky ways onto those we choose to love. Whether it is a child that was formed in your body or a child formed in your heart, love is a choice and the choice is yours but, it is not the same.

What’s a Girl to Do? (Ruth)

What’s a Girl to Do? (Ruth)

False Images
Your Future is NOT Cast in Stone

This is a continuation of a study where we have already looked at Rachel and what her choices were when she had a chance for a new life, a fresh start. Now we will look at Ruth and what her choices were when facing a similar situation.

In the end, we will get to decide if we are going to be a Rachel or a Ruth. There is a choice to make, but, what’s a girl to do?

Rachel could not let go of her past that she declared she wanted to leave behind. We understood clearly that she could never fully embrace her future until she admitted what was hiding in her saddle bags and relinquished her rights to them.

Ruth, like Rachel had married into a family that was different than her own; like Rachel, she was willing to leave the land of her own family and their way of life. But, while Rachel treasured the idols that belonged to the father she declared had done her wrong, Ruth pushed ahead. Instead of clinging to the past and all the hurts of yesterday, she clung desperately to the hope of tomorrow.

While Rachel ventured forth with her husband and children; Ruth was widowed and childless. Surely, she had even more reason to justify staying where she was. Surely, no one could have expected her to try to create a new life. And yet, even when Naomi, her mother-in-law tried to persuade her to return, she would not go back. Even when Naomi was successful in persuading her other daughter-in-law to return, she would not go back.

As a matter of fact, her final declaration of intention is one of the loveliest passages in the whole of Scripture.

‘But Ruth replied, “Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord punish me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us!” When Naomi saw that Ruth was determined to go with her, she said nothing more.’
(Ruth 1:16-18 NLT)

Time after time I have spoken with women who were at a cross roads in their life. Some have been forced into these points of decisions and choices. Perhaps as a teen they were taken from the family that a judge deemed unsafe. Perhaps as a young mother they are trying to establish boundaries to protect their own families from the pain of the past they have experienced. Perhaps they are widowed, like Ruth and feel as if they must begin again, all alone. Perhaps you find yourself there at this very moment.

Too many times we have allowed others to define who we are and determine our value. Too many times we have accepted what always has been as what must always be. Too many times we have felt guilty for desiring a different path to the point of feeling as if we are abandoning those we are ‘leaving behind’.

These are the false images that have been forced upon us. These have blinded us to the beauty and joy that could be ours when we remember who created us and who declared us to be good, very good. And to prove that you are most valuable to Him, God sent His own Son, Jesus to redeem you, to restore you.

I’d like you to consider a different way of thinking about it. Perhaps if you are courageous enough and steadfast like Ruth, you will be the first of many to make choices that lead to healing and hope.

Attached below is the 10 minute YouTube (part 4) of the study that tells of Ruth’s choices. Later we will look at two more women, an evil grandmother determined to destroy her own family and a brave young woman who refuses to let her succeed. ‘A Reason for Treason’.