Blessed is the one who is not offended by Me

So I have a new person I want to be when I grow up – Dr. Karyn Purvis. She’s a precious, lovely, brilliant child-development guru who wrote The Connected Child and spoke at the Empowered to Connect Conference this weekend that Justin and I attended. She has spent the last 15 years of her life helping adoptive parents and adopted children heal and connect and I just fell in love with her heart for children from hard places.

Sometimes I feel like a bit of a poser when it comes to the adoption thing. I love it, know we are called to it, but also know that our time has not yet come. So we go to these conferences and we’re surrounded by people in the trenches who are giving their lives, time, money, energy, and hearts to adopted and foster kids in the room, and there we sit with our two bio kids and a dream. And sometimes I feel a little foolish, frankly. But I also know that there is purpose in waiting, and that our vision for adoption has shifted even in these 3 years we have waited. I know that I am a better mom now than I was even a year ago (partially because of the amazing parenting strategies taught at conferences like the one I attended today). I know that the Lord is realigning my priorities even this week to focus on my family and He continues to shave the rough edges off the crazy woman that is Jen Wells. I know that this past few years, while we’ve waited, I’ve identified pretty unrealistic expectations in my heart of how this will all turn out, and I’ve watched those expectations die. I’ve learned to trust my Father more this past 3 years. I’ve become more of a person my kids can trust. So I can see that this wait has definitely served a purpose.

But still we wait. And we pray. And we read books and blogs. And we attend conferences. And we try desperately to be a light for our friends who have adopted, and be a safe person they can vent to and turn to when they need to take off their capes and be human and frustrated for a second.

He must become greater, I must become less. John 3:30

Now that verse sounds holy, right? But in recent weeks the life of John the Baptist, who made that beautiful statement of faith, has come up time and time again in my personal studies. This guy had spent his life predicting and proclaiming the coming Messiah. And He comes! John gets to baptize Him and hears the voice of God proclaiming that this is His Son. All of this is a huge mountaintop event – John is rare in humankind in that even while he is touching the shoulders of the flesh-bearing manifestation of the Son, He is seeing the Holy Spirit come down from heaven and hearing the voice of God the Father. So in essence – He experienced, with human senses, the Trinity. And that’s pretty amazing.

But then he’s sent to prison. While in prison, He sends Jesus a question – “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” Basically John is suffering, and he wants to make sure he’s got it right. And Jesus sends a message back confirming miracles that have been prophesied about the Messiah – but He leaves one really important part of the prophesy out. He leaves out the part where the Messiah sets the prisoner free. And at the end of His message, He sends a note to John, “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

I’m not an expert on the Bible – but basically if I’m reading this right, Jesus’ message to John says something like this: “I am the Messiah. But I’m not going to free you from prison, my plans for you are different from what you expect. But you’ll be blessed if you still love and trust Me even unto death.”

That is some crazy deep stuff. I’ll be honest, that is hard stuff for me to wrap my mind around. But in so many ways – this idea of living unoffended is the message of people I admire and respect, was the message of this conference, and is the message I think the Lord has been trying to teach me during the last 3 years of my discomfort (it’s hard to call what we’ve experienced a trial after being in the room I was in today with people who have experienced real trials and who are parenting kids who have come from unimaginable trauma). We can choose to not be offended by Jesus in those places of pain and suffering, and because of that choice, we will be blessed. It isn’t natural and it isn’t easy to experience suffering and remain unoffended. It kind of makes you an oddball in this comfort-driven world, actually. But by God’s grace, we can choose to live that way. We can find joy, peace, and grace in the absolute middle of impossibly hard places and we can choose to love Jesus with every pitiful ounce of strength we have left in the midst of trial and pain – and when we do, we are blessed.

Today I sat in a room full of people who have counted the cost, and who have joined widows and orphans in their distress. They get this concept. They live unoffended while they live out James 1:27 “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” That verse took on new meaning to me this weekend. I think in my mind I saw adoption as rescuing orphans from a world of chaos and bringing them into our world of safety and love. But today I was taught that James 1:27 says we’ll visit them in their distress – so more often it is us entering into their pain, their suffering, and their trauma so that we can walk with them to safety and healing. It’s messy and beautiful and holy.

I don’t really know how to wrap this blog up, as I so often like to do. I just know that I want to love and encourage people who are doing their best to be faithful, even in suffering. Jesus said it, and I believe it – “Blessed is the one who is not offended by Me.” God please help us to live unoffended.

Subjugation to the Kingdom – Tapestry Adoption Conference Recap

Yesterday Justin and I went to the Tapestry Adoption Conference at Irving Bible Church. This conference is a free event put on by the ministry of IBC and we are overwhelmed with gratitude for the opportunity to be around so many adoptive parents and hear their perspective.

The thing that we loved about Tapestry is that they boldly addressed the questions and concerns that are not always PC to address. And we loved that – because we were just able to sit and soak in the wisdom of people in the trenches – people who are living life, in their homes, supporting and learning from the orphan. And what we learned doesn’t just apply to orphancare – it applies to life and parenting and our jobs and our callings.

I have pages of notes – but here are a few thoughts from the conference that I wanted to share:

About dealing with the grief your child will face:

  • In the valley of grief, parents and children connect. The tough things you face together will bond you together. Don’t be afraid of this process – this process is the process by which you will become a family.
  • Any present day loss triggers early loss – and both are grieved simultaneously. So be aware that you are dealing with deep issues sometimes without realizing it. Keep this in context when dealing with what you perceive as an overreaction.
  • Be careful not to assign motive to a child’s behavior. It is often easy to think “They know exactly what they are doing” or “They are pushing my buttons on purpose.” That is not always true. Sometimes acting out is simply a response to unfamiliar circumstances and you need to take it at face value – this will help you calmly deal with it.
  • In a home, communication is key. Success in a home (with bio kids and adopted kids) can be defined as creating a safe place where any emotion, any question, any confusion can be lovingly expressed and dealt with.
  • Out of deep hurt, and out of the mercy of Christ only available in that place, we become wounded healers. There is purpose in deep pain because we learn how to help others. Remember this for your child. They will in time, and with an understanding of the mercy of Christ, be stronger because of the hurt they have faced.
  • Communicate realistically with biological children (when possible) the extra time potentially needed by the new adopted sibling. Help them mourn the loss of time and attention, and allow them the feelings of hurt that accompany the new family structure. Make the home a safe place for them to express those things as well. In time, they will understand and the bonding will occur.
  • Realize that bonding, and healing, and family, takes time. Keep expectations under control. If you are able to keep your expectations under control, you will be more likely to keep reactions under control.

About the realities of transracial adoption:

  • Bathe this issue in prayer. Prayer for friends, help, support, unity in your home. Realize that God started this and God formed your family and He has a plan for your success.
  • Realize that ethnicity does matter and will need to be dealt with wisely and prayerfully. We do not, although we would want to, live in a colorblind world. So prepare yourself and your child to face it with grace.
  • Subordinate the issue of diversity to the kingdom. Does not dissolve the reality of ethnical differences, but puts it in its proper place. We are commanded to care for the orphan. Does being a different race matter? Yes. Will there be struggle associated with that difference? Yes. But subjugate that issue to the Kingdom mandate to care for the orphan and to raise our children with a foundation of faith. Our Kingdom alliance, as fellow Believers in Christ, will overwhelm our differences. Our Kingdom mandate, in this issue as in every other issue in the life of a Believer, takes precedence.
  • We are given as gifts to one another to share real mutual relationships. Do not seek “diverse” friends. Seek people with the goal being giving ourselves to one another. If someone isn’t important to you before you adopt, why are they suddenly important to you after you adopt? Your child will see that – and will recognize the hypocrisy. Beware of using people – even for your “child’s benefit.”   Seek friendships with people who are different because YOU need them in your life. Have them in your home – make them a meal. Begin real relationships with people. Invest in them not because they bring diversity, but because they are valuable and there are things we can learn from each other and because we are commanded to live in community.  Heaven will be a beautiful rainbow of every tribe, tongue and skin color praising the King (so grateful for that truth) and our communities need to reflect that honestly.
  • Every child, regardless of race, will feel out of place in your home at first. So talk about it. Make home the safe place they can acknowledge that they feel different without any fear of recrimination. Commit to love and give of yourself without expectation of return. Pursue that child with love. Bonding will follow.
  • Often biological children will pursue a parent’s love. Many adopted children do not do this because of early loss. So it is the parent’s job to put aside our need to receive affection and pursue in love a relationship with adopted children. Do not let the child’s behavior dictate our emotional response to any child (bio or adopted). We love – period. We love because we first were loved (by Jesus – not our child). So we love. Subjugate our need to be loved back by the child and remember the love of our Father. The love of the child will come in time, but we cannot let that time affect our pursuit of the child. We love because we were loved.
  • If people stare/comment on your family – how do you respond? “Every moment is not a Rosa Parks moment – learn to deal with it.” Be graceful, kind, and discerning. Realize it will happen – comments will be made (some of them terrible). Protect your child where possible with strangers. With family – educate where you can (with close family/friends) and bring them along with you on your journey slowly. Realize you live in this world – you are reading books and seeking others like yourselves. They are not. Give them grace and time to catch up – it is likely they will understand in time.
  • Discussions of ethnicity often revolve around power, and for some, there is a perceived loss of power when taken out of their background. Again, subjugate that to the Kingdom. We are commanded to care for those that are not being cared for by anyone else and to raise them into the Kingdom.
  • We are raising kids into a Kingdom, not a race. We are living for what’s to come. Remember that when facing hurts – keep an eternal perspective. Not everyone will understand (much like faith) – but it does not make it any less true.

One of the things I loved is how adoptive parent after adoptive parent talked about how much better they parent their biological kids now that they have learned to parent their adopted kids differently. It makes us more intentional and deliberate as parents. Because each child is wounded (in a fallen world, how can they not be?) and each child deserves our best as parents. So much of what we learned yesterday I saw through the filter of not only the future kids we so long to bring home, but I saw Grace’s face, and so much of this applied to her as well. And sweet Bekah’s. I really loved it. And I loved being around all of the families. We ate lunch with two couples who foster infants in their home. The love they show for these children and then the strength required in relinquishing them afterwards was inspiring.

This theme – subjugation to the Kingdom – kept coming up over and over. Subjugation means to bring under control or to conquer. So we have to subjugate ourselves, our expectations, other’s expectations, our fears, other’s comments, our need for approval, and our need for control to the Kingdom and to the Lord. Isn’t that difficult? Doesn’t that sometimes make you want to cuss? I think that is why I am drawn to adoptive parents and mature Believers. They have learned to do this. They get the proper order of things. It is God first – His plan, His glory, His agenda, His kingdom. After that comes our needs and desires.

I think that is why the Lord is allowing this wait. The reality of our situation has not changed and it is not realistic for us to begin the adoption journey quite yet. And that is hard to wrap my mind around sometimes. But when I look at it in this context, that I am even having to keep my desire to adopt under control and having to subjugate that to the reality that the Lord has not yet opened the door, it feels like preparation. I want to learn this and want to be faithful – because adoption is all about trusting God. With the timing, with the child, with the funding, with the process. So this wait is even part of the process for us – I’m sure.

So we are grateful. I know many of you are with us, waiting on the Lord in this area. I pray this blesses you and that you also will be encouraged in your calling to care for these children who Jesus loves. The conference took the pressure off of us – it is the Lord who builds our families – and He is faithful. He is good. And He will do what He has promised to do. And after this weekend, we feel more equipped and more committed to begin when the Lord opens a door. And we feel more equipped to parent our sweet girls with grace and the love they deserve. He is simply good.