Ready to roll? Again?
I hope that PART 1 of my musings got you thinking, at least a little. I know it was a lot. Keep processing and chewing on it – for you, for your child. Absorb what you can, (gently) spit out what you’re not ready for. Thoughts and comments and even push back are always welcomed. For real, I can take it. Additional perspective and wisdom and experience is something that always teaches me, deepens me, strengthens me. I love when I get to “add to” who I am.
Well, here’s PART 2 if you’re up for more lovely rainbows and unicorns.
One of the most surprising and enlightening things a mentor told me is that when she listened to me share my story, she sensed that I was telling it from my “head,” from my left brain. All the information and facts and data I shared fell right out of my mouth, with ease, like bullet points. I didn’t skip a beat. I knew exactly how to tell, how to “report” my story.
I’ve always been remarkably good at remembering and articulating the details. I haven’t always been good at feeling the details. Back then, and even now, my story can stay stuck in the events, in the data, which makes it really easy for my heart to stay stuck there, too. Tucked away. Closed. Protected.
There are experts and therapists who can help you know how and when (not IF) to tell your child his/her story in an age appropriate way – the really, really good parts AND the hard, messy parts. It’s all important to know, to tell, to feel. One thing I believe wholeheartedly, is that when telling a story, whether your own or your child’s, it’s essential to always tell the truth. Always. To some this may seem like a “duh,” but I’ve met so many parents who have a really hard time believing that telling the truth is going to be helpful, especially if parts of the story have the potential to hurt their child. And I get it. It feels awful to have to tell your child that someone made a decision that hurt him/her, that someone was sick or died, that someone wasn’t able to take care of him/her, that someone didn’t want him/her, that someone did something un-loving. And now you – YOU – have to be the messenger of that kind of bad news. Not fair. At all.
But here’s the thing: You are not the one who committed the “wrong.” The hard truth is not on you, it’s not about you. It’s on the story. You are the messenger, the one who tells what happened. And then, you get to be a person who feels and grieves WITH your child, who aches WITH your child, who mourns WITH your child, who helps make sense of the story WITH your child. YOU get to be the one who shows compassion towards your child, for his/her story, for what happened to him/her. Now THAT is a gift. That is a chance to show love and build trust. And believe me, YOU want to be that person! When you enter INTO your child’s story WITH him/her, you become a soft place that your child can always return to when he/she has questions and doubts and confusion and anger, when shame tries to sneak it’s way in. And when the understanding and acceptance and gratitude and healing find it’s way in.
And let me add this…when you tell the hard parts of your child’s story, let your heart show. Allow your anger and sadness and disappointment with the unknown facts, with the unfair decisions, with the unjust actions to surface, so that your child is able to see and know that it’s OK to feel the hard feelings, that it’s OK to say them out loud. Often times we don’t know that’s it’s OK to feel (or verbalize) all those messy feelings. And so we need your help, your permission, your lead. And as you show those feelings, what begins to happen is that your child begins feeling your compassion for what happened to him/her, towards his/her hurting heart. It’s kind of hard to explain, but when you experience someone’s empathy towards your story, it changes you. You feel seen. You feel heard. You feel known. And feeling known is one of the most wonderful and needed gifts that you can give your child. To feel like someone “gets” you, to feel like someone understands you, THAT is when the focus becomes less lasered in on the feelings and more on feeling compassion towards yourself, for that little boy or little girl inside of you.
SIDE NOTE: I know that many of you feel an urgency to tell your child his/her story because some of us keep telling you how important it is. Here’s my two cents on this: while your child is young, unable to make sense of what you hope they will make sense of, practice showing your heart and responding to their heart in the everyday things, like when it’s time to go to bed or get dressed or turn off the TV – anytime they show their feelings, anytime disappointment surfaces. Practicing here will help with there – what is to come.
For me, the more I’ve shown the little girl inside of me tenderness and grace and forgiveness, when I’ve told her, “I’m so, so sorry that you had to lose the two people who created you, who were first connected to you, who were “supposed” to love you and take care of you,” and “I wish that had never had to happen to you,” have been the very moments when something inside of me opens. It’s been the moments I began realizing how much she – the little girl still inside me – needed love, how much that I long for love, that I was made to love. It’s like that little girl was stuck “back then.” She shut down, became dismissive of her pain, hid her anger and fear and shame, and did what she needed to survive, to know that she mattered. For me it was (and can still be) performance and perfection, telling myself that I needed to be a “good girl,” but there are a million ways we can respond to life when our hearts shuts down. And whatever it is that opens up (I would say it’s our spirit), it begins to soften – not only to the truth and grace and love offered by the people in our life, but to the truth and grace and love that God has to offer. Truth about how lovable we are, how valuable we are, how much he sees and knows and delights in us, how much his heart grieves at what happened to us, about how lovable our birthparents are (no matter what choices they made), about how he planned for us before the beginning of time. Oh…so many tears as I’ve heard his truth. And, lots of resistance to allowing these truths to replace the lies I had believed (and can still believe) about myself and people, and even how good and trustworthy he was, back then.
You see for us, the reality that the two people who created us didn’t stay with us, for whatever reason – good or bad – messes with our goodness. It distorts our identity. It makes us doubt our significance. Even if a child received love and nurture and safety as they were raised by foster parents and/or caretakers in an orphanage, the loss of birthparents – not staying with them, not staying connected to them – is serious, grievous, unfair. Our lives hold the impact of that. Our hearts carry the weight of that. Forever.
I’ve often thought back to when I was in the hospital giving birth and what it would’ve been like to need to or choose to or be forced to “give my babies away,” and all I can come up with is that it would be excruciating painful, devastating, horrific. I would feel the impact of that loss every single day. To think about living through that experience as an adult and comparing it to what that would be like for my babies – my babies who were connected to me, who needed my touch and voice and smell, my love. And then to be carried away, “placed into” another family’s home, and expected to adapt, expected to reconnect, expected to disconnect from what was – their first people and surroundings? OH, MY HEART! How in the world do you do that? Even with a healthy family structure and environment? HOW IN THE WORLD does one ever “get over” that? How does one ever get over any other treacherous relational experiences like when one parent leaves the other parent, or cheats on the other parent, or is abused by another human being? And so on and so on.
What the adoption world (historically, but maybe even still) has asked of us adoptees dumbfounds me. And people wonder why adoptees seem so angry, why they just can’t “get over it,” why they just can’t be thankful for what they did get, for what they do have. (Later post on the “angry adoptee.”)
But you…we…can change that.
Friends, the loss of birthparents is traumatic for your baby – the vulnerable, tender, innocent, precious one whose body you hold. Please, please don’t negate or dismiss or cover up the impact of early trauma, of relational loss, or the other multiple layers of trauma that come after the initial separation. I beg you. We beg you. Hold all of this WITH us. You don’t have to fix it. You don’t have to take responsibility for it. You don’t have to heal it. You don’t have to take care of our feelings (or attempt to make us take care of yours). You can’t. I hate to have to tell you that, but you can’t. I don’t think any of us would ask this of you. But I do know that what we would ask of you is to be there, with us, in it, showing us all the compassion and tenderness and grace you possess. Giving us permission to be mad, sad, scared, shameful, disconnected, untrusting – to feel. Giving us permission to be on our own journey, to make sense of our own story. Giving us permission to find who we are, to heal, to experience redemption, in our own time. (Later post on acceptance and healing and redemption, because that comes WAY later in the story!)
Please, please give us permission to be human.
And so I had to feel. I had to feel what lay dead and distant inside of me for years. I had to speak my own truth, out loud, to myself, to others, to God. It felt so wrong and disobedient and unsettling to feel angry and resentful and sad, to wish I knew my birthparents, to feel unforgiveness towards my birthparents, to wish that I hadn’t needed to be adopted. Yet, I hated myself for not loving myself, for not accepting my story, for allowing shame to veil me. I heard over and over again, “It was God’s plan for you to be a part of our family,” and “Just think what your life would have been like if you had stayed in Korea,” and “God has a purpose in all of this for you.” Those sentences messed with me. Unknowingly for a long time, but as I grew older, something in me didn’t feel right when people said those things to me. Parents – these phrases might all be true, but speaking truth before acknowledging the pain will only force your child to be somewhere, someone, he or she is not.
SIDE NOTE: Maybe instead of saying, “It was God’s plan for you to be in our family,” you could say, “We know it makes God’s heart so sad to know that your parents weren’t able to take care of you (or died or made the choice to leave you or weren’t able to parent you or made choices that hurt you or chose the plan of adoption – whatever language you decide).” And then, “And at the same time, we know it makes God’s heart so happy that you get to be a part of our family.” Pain and joy – they always exist together.
And so when you hear that adoptees hold this belief that we should feel grateful for having been adopted, you (hopefully) can understand why we feel influenced to feel this way. When the missing story or awful story or just plain hard story – the past – gets pushed aside and the focus becomes about the present, about the “forever family,” about what we have NOW, the gratitude feels forced. It’s like our past exists only as pieces of information to compare our current life to rather than a story to be told. And for many years, this was true. This is what parents were taught about our beginnings – that it happened, that it’s over. But our past – the time before we joined your family – is part of our story, part of our lives. It shaped us, our insides – the way we relate, the way we connect, the way we trust, the way we love, the way we see us and you and God. However mysteriously it happens, I believe that our brains get wired to begin believing the lie that who we are is not OK. This lie can turn more specifically into either, “I am too much” or “I am not enough.” And when we don’t believe that who we are is good, that feels badly. That’s painful. And like I wrote about in Part 1, when we feel pain, we have a choice: we can FLEE the pain or we can FEEL the pain.
I’ll be honest, fleeing feels WAY better. It makes you feel better about yourself. Well, in a deceptive sort of way. But the way you stroll through life gives off the sense that you have something to prove – that you’re smart enough, rich enough, funny enough, strong enough, cool enough, pretty enough, good enough. You get it. Some try to make people tell them that they’re OK. Others try to convince people that they’re OK. There’s something deep inside us all that yearns to know that we’re enough. That’s part of the impact of “the fall.” And after awhile, what we’re doing seems futile. It doesn’t give the return that we’re hoping for. And at the end of the day, when we lay our head down on our pillow, that sense of peace that we all want, just isn’t there. The striving get’s so tiring, and in time, will take it’s toll – sometimes within your marriage, sometimes your job, sometimes your children, sometimes your body. Spending all that energy proving to the world that you’re somebody because you believe you’re nobody is going to bite you in the butt. I’ll say it a little nicer: it’s going to cost you something. Maybe that’s a relationship or job or respect or money, or maybe even your own soul. And no soul is worth losing.
Fleeing will always lead you to a dead end.
But if you choose to FEEL, you’ll find more of you. And that comes with a cost, too. If you choose to enter the heart spaces, you choose vulnerability. And, unfortunately, not everyone has the ability or maturity to handle or hold the heart spaces with you. Let’s face it, it’s not easy to cry, especially with others. And for some, it’s just as difficult to feel and show anger. It feels so wrong. And what about shame? Who wants to admit that they think they suck, that they’re bad, that there’s something wrong with them? There are few people who will be willing to navigate through all of us with you which is not about you, it’s about them – their inability, their insecurity, their lack of practice with vulnerability, their belief that brokenness needs to be buried. (Finding safe people is hard and takes time, but critical to the process.)
But aren’t all of these emotions (and all of the others) human? Could feeling these emotions WITH your children show them that you’re human too? That it’s OK to be human? Could modeling humanity for our children actually allow them to feel what they need to feel at the appropriate age in the appropriate way? So they don’t get stuck emotionally, “back then”? And after you begin feeling what’s inside and naming it and owning it, then what do you do with all that mad and sad and scared and shame? It’s not in the feeling that’s bad or wrong, it’s what you DO with the feeling that either destroys and dismisses or repairs and reconciles. (Later post on what to DO with the feelings.)
Feeling will always lead you to your humanity.
(So, if you need a breather or a break, I guess this could be the place to take one. But I would keep reading if I were you.)
And so as hard as it was to tell God that I felt confused and angry and hurt and sad and scared, that everything felt so unfair, it was the beginning of a shift. A shift that went from me hiding from me (and everyone else) what was inside of me, to me seeing me, what was inside of me. I began allowing myself to be human. I started choosing vulnerability – with me, with others, with God. I started trusting, what was inside of me. And you know what? For many, many years, my vulnerability came from an invitation from someone else. I didn’t go there intentionally. I didn’t ask for it. I didn’t seek it. Vulnerability was always shared. Others showed me their heart – the good and the hard – first. And then I chose to “go there,” with them. Little by little, pieces and parts of my story were told. And felt. And responded to. Each of these people showed me that they were safe – that all my feelings were OK to lay out on the table. No judgment, no criticism, no rescuing, no “You shouldn’t feel that way.” They responded to my heart. When I began naming out loud what was inside of me – the parts I felt scared of, ashamed of – it felt SO vulnerable. It felt like I was taking off my clothes, sitting there naked and exposed. But in their response – their eyes, their posture, their tone, their words – it felt like they were re-clothing me with dignity, with truth. Everything I showed, everything I told, was listened to, affirmed, empathized with, responded to, shown compassion. And it changed me. And them.
Vulnerability will always lead you to intimacy and connection and authentic relationship, to trust.
First it was people. People came first. Then God.
People were the ones who showed me that God was safe enough to trust. People were the ones who displayed God’s heart, his character, his love. Maybe for some, there’s this amazing instinct and belief that God is trustworthy, but I think those of us who got messed with, not only doubted that people were good and would stay when it got hard or inconvenient, but also doubted that God was good and would stay. And then to be told that God “allowed it to happen”? Or that he “planned it” And “had a purpose”? What? It’s really hard to trust a God like that. (Later post on the huge word, “trust.” Maybe even a little on the topic of “God and pain” and the “Gospel of Adoption.” That is, if I find the courage. Rainbows and unicorns first.)
And let’s talk about God for a minute, and the church. Wanna go here? I do.
DISCLAIMER: I am not a theologian, not even close, but I do have some thoughts on God. Please know that these are my thoughts. They don’t need to be your thoughts. But, they could be “our” thoughts, together – ha! Please know that my faith, my view of God, his view of us – they’re always evolving and growing and maturing and expanding. (I hope yours are too.)
It seems, in my experience, that the “church” has been taught and told, “point your children to God.” For some, there’s been an intentional parenting philosophy that instructs parents to focus on telling their children who God is, what he expects of them, what he hates, what he’s against, what behavior is considered “holy,” what needs to be prayed for, what needs to be gotten rid of. Much of the evangelical church language can seemingly put demands and expectations on what being a “good” Christian looks like, acts like, talks like, believes like, feels like. The focus seems more on the outcome and results and behavior, rather than on the process of transformation and formation of the heart. Maybe for some, this way of thinking and living motivates and inspires and challenges. Yet, for others, it’s been confusing and shameful and destructive to the heart of humanity, to building authentic relationships. Where is God in the should and must and need to and have to? Yes, God is in the good, in the obedience. I think it pleases him when we choose to live under and in and with his authority. I believe that with everything inside of me. But…And…isn’t God also in the suffering? In the hurting and hard? In the unknown and blurry and messy? In the mad and sad and scared and shame? That we feel in our hearts? And isn’t the heart the very center of where Jesus lives and breathes and moves?
OK – so keep with me here.
As a parent, when my child feels disappointed or mad or sad or scared, even shameful, it’s so easy for me to begin telling her what really happened, why she shouldn’t feel that way, give her perspective, tell her something truthful in an attempt to get her refocused off her pain and onto feeling better. But that’s all cognitive, all left brain. When I begin rationalizing or explaining or theorizing, that only speaks to her mind. But what about her heart? The center of where Jesus lives and breathes and moves?
What do we do when everything inside our children is questioning and doubting and hating and hiding and fleeing? Do we force them to step into their head space? Tell them what they should be and must do and need to feel and have to get over? Does God do this with us? Does he demand or force us to be joyful or grateful or humble or honest? Or does he invite us? To be and do and feel and move forwards because that’s the kind of person he created us to be. And if/when we’re open to hearing his invitation, if/when we accept his invitation, if/when we choose him, I think that has the ability to bring SO much more glory to him than if he made us, or demanded us or forced us. Maybe as parents, we could choose to let go of and release what we don’t have control of. And then allow our presence, the way we show love, the way we model trust, be an invitation to our children to enter into their heart spaces.
Maybe the “church” needs to (whoops – I mean, could) awaken (or re-awaken) more of her heart to more of God’s heart. Maybe she has spent an unbalanced amount of time gaining knowledge and passing down knowledge, circling around in the left brain (which is very useful and needed, in time), and asking everyone else to, too. And I wonder what the impact of that is. I wonder if there might be a lot of “Christians” who know a lot about God, but have very little experience feeling known by God because they’ve never invited him into their hearts. I wonder, adoptees, how much you’ve been told, how much you “know” about your story. But even more so, I wonder how much you’ve felt “known” in your story.
We want to know our story. We want to feel known in our story.
When a child is asking why his/her birthmother and birthfather, his/her first parents, didn’t or couldn’t keep him/her, I’m going to guess that he/she doesn’t want to hear: “Honey, I don’t know why, except that it was part of God’s plan” or “Sweetie, they placed you for adoption because they loved you so much” or “Baby, I don’t know all the details, but I’m so glad God gave you to us” or “God had a plan that we just can’t understand” or “I know that’s hard to hear, but you were meant to be with us, our family.” And on and on. NO. NO. NO. That is NOT going to help us feel known (even though some or all of this could be true and “might” be OK to say at some point in time). That’s going to rip us right away from our heart and force us into our head and expect us to make sense of something that you and I as adults can’t even make sense of. And I know, parents, what I’ve learned from listening to you, is that you don’t want that for your child. I believe that. You have shown me that.
So…I’m going to ask you to listen.
Go after the heart. Go after your child’s heart. When he/she is screaming because he/she is so mad that someone didn’t keep him/her or couldn’t keep him/her, or sobbing because he/she misses his/her first parents and doesn’t understand why he/she can’t meet them, or isolating himself/herself because someone in his/her life keeps being mean and he/she feels rejected, or even when he/she does everything perfectly right and seemingly has adapted, GO AFTER HIS/HER HEART. Meet your child where he/she is at – IN the emotion, IN their heart. I give you permission to do that because the church, historically, hasn’t given us permission to do that. We’re supposed to be strong and resilient, looking forwards and upwards, not backwards or downwards, focused on getting rid of sin rather than sitting with our shame. But, my friends (OK – I’ve calmed down now), I’ll say it again, the heart is the very center of where Jesus lives and breathes and moves. And if he’s there, in the heart, could it be, then, that he’s already in the story? You see, you don’t have to go looking for him. You don’t have to worry about if your child will find him. He’s already there. In the heart spaces.
(OK – take another breather and then keep reading.)
So, if God’s in the story and your child is in the story, then don’t you want to be in the story too?
We want you in the story, WITH us. The story BEFORE YOU WERE MINE! (Hey – that’s a good book title! (wink))
The heart is the very place where Jesus enters the story, where he steps into humanity to make himself known, where he creates space so that we are able to feel known. It’s not about inviting him into or finding him in the story. He’s already there. Smack dab in the middle. I think we’ll find him, I think you’ll find him, when we find the courage to go there, to the hard and soft and vulnerable places, in the heart spaces.
Maybe parents, you could focus less on how to “tell” (report) your children their story and spend a little more time on learning what it means to “show” them what’s in the story – showing them a true picture of Jesus by showing them his heart for them by showing your heart for them. And in doing so, maybe their heart will know it’s capacity to turn, to transform and soften, back from stone into flesh, how it was originally designed. Maybe you’ll give them an irresistible invitation to find more of their hearts, which will have the potential to awaken them to the powerful and mysterious and healing Jesus, who has been there all along. In the story. With them. Oh, and maybe…you’ll find more of your heart, too.
I think that would blow our socks off. It may even blow our hair back.
This is what you GET to do, GET to be. But here’s another really hard thing I have to tell you…just because you would offer yourselves to us in this way, doesn’t guarantee anything. Ahhh! That’s really hard to hear, isn’t it? And it stinks to have to tell you this. But here’s the deal: WE have to do our own work. WE have to go on our own journey. WE have to find our own truth, our own voice. We have to come to a place where we believe we are capable, lovable, good. No one can do this for us. But…you get to be there, right beside us, offering us a voice that reminds us that we are strong and brave and courageous. You get to remind us that it’s worth fighting for our hearts. You get to remind us of who we are. This is the gift we need from you.
And I’m convinced, that going on this journey, TOGETHER, could lead ALL of us to a new place, a better place – to more love, more intimacy, more trust. Oooh! I feel a little shalom as I type that.
Hmmm…(picture me sitting and having a thought, not making a statement, even though I might be)…
Maybe it’s not as much about the “act” of adoption that we need to promote or market or advocate for. Maybe the gift, the glory, the purpose in something like the “process” of adoption, is less about rescuing or saving vulnerable children and more about the potential for more of the “the story” to be told – a compelling heart story of entering in and letting go, of compassion and grace, of intimacy and love; a story of trustworthy relationship.
Now THAT could be a story worth writing.
Parents: It’s a ripple affect. You gotta know your story. You gotta show the little girl or boy inside of you some heart, some compassion, and hopefully experience your own healing. And then, offer that kind of compassion to your children – their wounds, their brokenness, their frailty, their mistakes, their hearts. And as you do, I so believe that your empathy (and maybe sympathy), will begin to infuse deep into their bones, strengthening them. And the impact will be that they will learn that it’s OK and worthwhile to show compassion towards their own stories, their own bleeding heart. And as they step into the world, into relationships, they will have a secure foundation and space to always go from and return to. So, go with them, at their pace, as they’re able, when they’re ready. They’ll show you. They’ll give you clues and signals. Be alert, be ready, be prepared. And do this, BE this, not because you have to, but because that’s the kind of man or woman, the kind of parent, you already are. Maybe it’s that you just need a little more practice being who you are. Oh, and remember, storytelling takes time. Lots of time.
Adoptees: Maybe you’ve never shown the little girl/boy or adolescent or teenager or adult inside you compassion for what’s happened to her/him. That’s OK. That actually would be understandable. But that little girl or boy inside needs you – needs you to come after her/him. She/he needs you to see her/him. She/he needs to hear that you hurt for her/him, that you ache for her/him, that you mourn for her/his loss, for the way the story messed with her/him. And, that you believe in her/him – that she is capable of re-writing her/his story with truth, with compassion, with grace. And in doing so, somehow, some way, gradually the parts of you that feel so disconnected, so far removed from one another, will integrate, will come together, will be made whole, will find life. But at your pace, as you’re able, when you’re ready. You’ll know. And I want to tell you this: YOU are worth the work it will take to write this part of the story. It’s worth finding more of you. We need your story. We need you.
Friends: All you have to do – GET to be – is human. The kind of spaces that need to be created for healing to take place, are human spaces. Take the pressure off yourself to be the healer. Let go of figuring out what to “do” so your child will heal. As you sit in God’s presence and experience more of his truth, more of his love, you’ll know exactly how to BE – to your spouse, to your child, to your family, to the world. Because you will have positioned yourself right in the middle, in the heart of the story, the very place where God’s healing spirit lives and breathes and moves. And whatever happens for you in that space, however that sacred exchange of him giving and you receiving happens, you’ll find trust. You’ll know trust. And as that kind of relationship finds itself and secures itself and defines itself, a voice will rise. It will probably be a little quiet at first, but it will grow. It will find itself, and lose itself, and re-find itself, differently in different seasons. And as you listen for it, you’ll know it. It will become familiar, known. It will be a voice that not only tells and reports of, but also shows the world how good God is, how available his heart is. It will be a voice that is able to tell the world of the beautiful and redemptive story he is writing for the world he wildly loves.
And just to think, if we did this TOGETHER, if we came to see God in the story, TOGETHER.
MUSIC – Again, some of my favorites. Just click and listen. Don’t watch the videos (unless you want lyrics). Just close your eyes and listen. And be.
Worn by Tenth Avenue North
Held by Natalie Grant