"Be that as it may, my Father knows best, and I'm confident that He has placed me here; my task is to labor quietly until the pillar cloud removes and leads farther, working out God's purposes in God's time." -Jim Elliot


Father of the Fatherless

Father's Day always evokes a range of emotions in my heart. My first eighteen years of life were filled with a confusing and hurtful gap between my biological father and I. I never knew what to expect or who I was going to get with him. He was in and out of our lives, sometimes I would see him every other weekend, and sometimes six months would pass without hearing from him. He seemed to really wrestle internally with being a parent. He did not seem to enjoy my visits, but on rare occasion I would sense that he was close to letting his guard down. A small smile or possibly an ice cream cone treat when he would buy one for me and not just himself. Those moments were few and far between, but I like to think that somewhere deep within him there was love. But for the most part, my memories of my father are not my fondest. My upbringing was laced with a deep hole in my heart that I now know only God could fill.  Every daughter without a father knows what this sense of deficiency feels like.

Shortly following the last conversation I had with my father during the week before my high school graduation, I began to sense that there was hope. That somehow all of this would be made right. That redemption really did exist. And it was within the next few months that I met my Father. A Father who sacrificed His Son to close the gap between us. (John 3:16) My Father who is always with me, whose ears are always open and inclined to my heart. (Psalm 34:17-18) A Father who never changes but remains the same. (James 1:17) My Father who not only enjoys being my Parent, but desires to give me good things to show me His great love and kindness. (Psalm 27:10, Matt. 7:11) My Father whose love I never need to doubt or question. (1 John 3:1) This is who my Father is.  I am His child, and I rest in His covering of unconditional love and grace that still is so far beyond my comprehension.

In my past experiences as a child, God manifested the scripture that what the enemy intended for evil in my childhood, God intended for good (Genesis 50:20) in using the gap my earthly father left in my life to fuel an insatiable hunger to know my heavenly Daddy. What is undoubtedly my deepest childhood wound is also my greatest blessing. The absence and indifference of my dad was what Charles Spurgeon calls "the wave" in his renowned quote: "I have learned to kiss the wave that throws me against the Rock of Ages." My earthly father's lack of love has flung me into the arms of Christ's unconditional love. My dad's absence has been the catalyst to usher me into the presence of God forever.  That wave hurt, you betcha. But what better place to be flung? What softer place to fall than into the arms of grace?  I can truly say that I would go through it all over again to know my Abba Father, my Daddy, my All.  And I can also wholeheartedly say that I forgive my earthly father.  Not only do I forgive him, but I love him and am so thankful for him that it was through our relationship that I realized my unmet needs could only be met by Jesus.

This Father's Day, my heart truly aches for Selah. I long for her to know that although her earthly father is not with her, that she is loved, adored, and cherished by God and us! That she will soon be with a family who longs for her heart to learn how to trust, and to grieve, and to find hope. God has promised us that in Isaiah 45:3, "I will give you the treasures of darkness and the hoards in secret places, that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel, who calls you by your name." He gives us the treasure of Himself in the dark places that threaten to take us out.  He is our Rock of Ages, the cleft in the rock in which we can hide. His great love endures forever.  "But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.  We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies." (2 Cor. 4:7-10)  Our pain has purpose, our mourning has mission.  Nothing is wasted.  He also promises to work all things for the good for those who love Him and who are called according to His purpose. (Rom. 8:28) My prayer is that Selah may also see her need for her heavenly Father in the midst of the absence of her earthly one. That He would work all things for the good in her heart. That what the enemy intended for evil, He intended for good.  And I pray too that my incredible husband and father to our three beautiful children will be the healing salve that points her to the One and only Father of the fatherless. (Psalm 68:5)  Ben has truly been the closest picture to me of selfless love that I have ever experienced in a relationship on this earth.  He is without doubt my greatest gift after Jesus.

In many ways, this Father's Day, I thank God too for my experiences as a child because of how this will help me to understand the pain of relinquishment that our daughter will feel.  My earthly father walked away from our relationship sixteen years ago, and I have not heard from him since.  And yet those sixteen years have been filled with the love of my sweet Savior, Jesus Christ.  No greater love will I ever know.  What a gift today, to know that He loves Selah as Daddy.  That He can not only close the gap, but that He can fill the hole in her heart one day as He has mine.  I am so thankful that He is the Father of the fatherless, and He always will be.  This song, "It Is Well" by Kristene DeMarco beautifully describes the peace I have in my heart on this Father's Day...looking to my Daddy's face and resting in His arms.

(For mobile devices, go to this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YNqo4Un2uZI )


Loss, Grief, Redemption

Social Welfare Institute of Pingxiang City (Selah's orphanage)
Many people imagine Gotcha Day in a deeply romantic way.  The parentless child finally gets a family.  The sun shines, the birds sing, and the child runs into their new parents' open arms.  Everyone is happy, and the child is saved from this horrible life.  That's how most people imagine it.  But ponder for a moment if you were suddenly taken from your home and everything you have ever known, without any real input, and suddenly deposited in an African village with a family.  Everything in your life has changed.  The sights, sounds, smells, language, all the way down to your name.  Even if you were totally prepared for it, and you knew it was a good thing, it would be hard.

When we bring Selah home, she will be grieving the loss of everything she has ever known.  Really the only things she will have that are the same as the last day in the orphanage will be the gifts we sent her ahead of time.  We are preparing ourselves for the realities of Gotcha Day, and that the following days/weeks/months are probably going to be really hard for all of us emotionally.

CJ Mahaney shared in a sermon more about these realities of adoption.  He shared about a family who had adopted two boys out of an orphanage in Russia.  Conditions there were horrid: they were not fed regularly, they only got diaper changes once or twice a day, and they received minimal care overall.  Yet when their new parents drove away, the kids were screaming in terror and reaching back for the orphanage.  When I read the book of Exodus, I used to get puzzled by how the Israelites longed to go back to Egypt after they had been set free.  Now I understand better, they were just released from bondage and slavery, but the unknown future was more frightening than their known past.

What changes things in the heart of the adopted orphan is the work of God's love through the hearts of the ones adopting.  As her adoptive parents, we know that we are going to put her through something harder than most of us could imagine.  We could spare her the hardship, but she would never know the love of a family.  We love her, and we know that in the long run it is the best thing for her.  Our goal is not to take everything away from her.  Not everything in her life is bad.  She has friends, she has people who care about her, she has a place to live, she has her basic needs met.  There is nothing wrong with her language, the smells, the sounds, or her name.  But we have something to give her that she can't receive there, and in order for her to receive it, she has to lose everything else.  Our job as her parents is to love her and give her what she would never receive otherwise.  We also intend to give her back much of what she had before, in a new form.  We want to be a part of God redeeming her life.  She will lose everything she has, but she will be loved and have everything she needs restored.

The scary thing about following Jesus is that it isn't about changing a few things.  It isn't that we have to go to church on Sunday morning instead of sleeping in, or that we are supposed to give away some of our money.  It isn't that we stop saying bad words or doing bad things.  To follow Jesus means to die, to lay down our all in exchange for the love of our Father.  Everything is changed, everything is made new, everything is a gift from the One who gave His all to make us His children.  And I know that I tend to be the child screaming in terror and reaching back towards a squalid orphanage because I don't always trust the love of my Father who seeks to take me away to something better.  I often think the hardest part about being an American Christian is that I'm allowed to keep so many of the things that my Father wants me to leave behind.  I keep putting my orphan clothes back on, and walking around like I'm still back in the orphanage. But I know my Father loves me, and I seek to grow in my love for Him and my trust in His love for me.  I am growing in my understanding that I need to lose everything like Selah is going to do, so that I can fully enjoy the life my Father has for me. As Matthew 16:25 says, "For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."

In a few weeks we will be going to China so that we can bring Selah home.  We get to literally be a part of God redeeming her.  The only thing that we have to offer her is the love God has put in our hearts, but by God's grace, this love will be worth her losing everything.  And the only reason that we can offer her this love, is because we have been loved, redeemed, and adopted by Him. "See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God! And that is what we are!" (1 John 3:1)


The Heart of Attachment

There are moments as a parent that you are given a glimpse of how much you don't know and how much you need to grow. And then there are times when the Lord doesn't just give you a mere glimpse, but provides a glaring light lens into your heart, mind, and beliefs that are driving your responses and interactions with your children. This weekend was one of those glaring light moments for us as parents. We will be the first to admit that we do not have it all together. We need God's grace for every minute of every day. And yet, we also have been largely unaware of how much our attachment style as parents reveals areas of healing and work that God wants to do in us to grow and change us in how we approach our children. We are all broken, we are all in need of grace. And we saw in a much clearer way this weekend our need for grace to come in and change us from the inside out.

Many parents live in a cycle of wanting to manage their children's behavior, emotions, and attitudes. We may fall into the cycle of believing the falsehood of "good in good out" parenting, as Elyse Fitzpatrick explains in her book, "Give Them Grace". We focus on behavior instead of the need behind the behavior...and no wonder we continue to witness more and more behaviors that we want to change. We see very little victory in changing the behavior of our children when we just see them as a behavior to correct and fix. We learned much this weekend about children who have mistrust and fear. Children who need a parent to enter into their need for security and trust at all costs. Parents who will get down on their level and ask, "What is going on? What are you needing right now?" instead of "Stop doing that. I need you to behave."

I recently led a Bible study with a group of mama friends. We journeyed through the incredible book called "Give Them Grace" by Elyse Fitzpatrick. The book really dives into the truths that the last thing our children need is more law. That their little hearts need the Gospel of grace more than anything else, and that there is no parenting formula to produce good children. In fact, none of us are good. We need grace to cover our sin and free us to live redeemed lives empowered by Him for good.

What I am learning as a parent through His Word, our Bible study going through "Give Them Grace", and this incredible training we were blessed to receive this past week at Pathways is this: when we focus on the behavior of our children, we are missing the big picture. There is a root belief beneath the behavior, and until we courageously pursue the hearts of our children to expose the root, we will continue on a path of correction without change. When the heart of a child is not the focus of our attention, our relationships with them will remain stuck and broken.

One of the biggest takeaways from this weekend for me is that unless a child is calm, it is impossible for them to learn. They cannot reason or learn anything in a state of fear, they are either going to fight, flight, or freeze. It is in these moments when the child's brain is active in the hypothalamus (brain stem), and it will be unable to learn anything while remaining there. This is why teachers who use shame-based approaches with children will yield low test scores and stunted educational growth. Their approach is shutting down the frontal cortex area of the brain, also known as the learning center.  When our children are having a tantrum or emotional outburst, it is not the time to reason or correct them. It is a time to enter in calmly, to do whatever we can to disarm the fear and emotion behind the action. In this way, we create a pathway not only to their frontal cortex where learning can take place, but also a direct route to their heart. There is immense value in the opportunities that our children afford to us through their meltdowns.  When we feel inconvenienced by such behavior, we need to remember that this is a direct gift from God to have eyes to see right into the heart of that child.  It is an opportunity to be a part of the healing needed in their hearts...and to be changed ourselves in the process.  More important than proving our point that we were right or to assert our authority to create submissive obedient children is this...we are all being rescued.  We are all a part of this glorious messy process of redemption.  It is His plan to rescue us together. In these special moments of parenthood when we witness behavior in our children and commit sin ourselves that screams out loud for our need for a Savior...we need to choose to enter into our collective need for redemption.  

So my takeaways from this week's training may look a bit jumbled, but here goes:

- The initial hardwiring of our brains contains 100 billion neurons.  By the age of three years old, each of those 100 billion neurons has made 10,000 connections with the world.  For many orphans, these connections have taught them that they can't trust and feel safe with the world around them.
- The formative years of attachment happen in the first three years of life that will hugely impact how we bond and connect with others.  For many of us, this is difficult news, but the good news is that God can redeem any attachment style we may be to change us into secure and connected parents.  If we are too afraid to courageously seek truth concerning our childhood and acknowledge maladaptive parenting techniques that we might be using, we often shift blame to our children.  If we resist the process of growing, we will take something that reveals our issue and make it our children's issue.
- Selah will come to us with many walls built around her.  It is not her responsibility to tear down those walls and to attach with us.  We are the guides to her secure attachment.  She will not and cannot do it alone.  We can't shift the responsibility to her.  It is our opportunity to fight for her heart through prayer and action to join God in healing the wounds of her heart from being relinquished and adopted.
- I need to be more playful with my kids so that they can learn in the playful moments what will help them in the fight, flight, or freeze moments.  Playfulness disarms fear, lowers triggers, and minimizes the child's fighting for control.  It is important to "find the lightheartedness in my voice".
- When I am not committed to calmly entering into my child's pain/anger/acting out, I am missing the opportunity to really teach them.
-When a child from hard places is acting out, there is a need driving that behavior. Usually the need is to be safe and to trust.  And many, many children just do not feel safe or trust.  In these moments when we are in the thick of parenting our children through these challenges, we need to put aside our need to be understood and guide them towards a healthier response. This can only happen when a parent is committed to remaining calm and focused on the needs of the child. It requires us to live out the Gospel day-in-and-day-out because it is selflessly laying aside our needs and putting the needs of our child first. It is radically living out the truth that their hearts mean far more than their behavior.
- I am the guide to creating new pathways of trust and security in my child's brain and heart.  Attachment with my children will largely be led by my effort to guiding them in love and grace through the power of Christ.
- I must read these books ASAP: "The Connected Child", "Anatomy of the Soul", "Parenting from the Inside Out", and "The Whole-Brained Child". 
- I have so much to learn.  I need so much grace.

Over all of this above is the truth that we stand here alone by God's grace.  The reason we are where we are in this adoption process, in this parenting process, and in our lives personally is evidence of a merciful God who has chosen to give us good and precious gifts of love, kindness, and generosity.  We are all broken, and He is in the business of redeeming lives.  This is our identity, this is what is true.  No brokenness will define us, but His grace sustains us.