The words below, which were posted by Ashley Whittemore in November of 2014, are a perfect way to begin this series of posts entitled “Hope-Filled Adoption Stories.” She so eloquently articulates both the dark and the beautiful parts of adoption, the hardships, the joys, and everything in between. I am so grateful to have learned from her. You can find her original post here: https://www.streamsandthorns.com/the-ugly-side-of-adoption/
I found this entry the other day while randomly flipping through an old journal: “January 2, 2013: Today, sort of in passing and sort of without even realizing it, I prayed a prayer.‘Do something great through me… No matter what it takes.’ I meant it when I prayed it, but my next thought was: ‘Uh-oh.’”
Dear Ashley from almost two years ago: that next thought was very appropriate. You see we used to have the “ideal” family. I’ll never forget when I was pregnant the second time and we found out we were having a girl and how perfect that was for us. We had our boy and now our girl to complete the balance. Two little picture-perfect blonde haired, blue-eyed beauties.We always talked about bringing another child into the family down the road. Maybe adopt from Africa or Asia, a newborn who needed a home. We could do that in a few years, no problem.
I did not anticipate that later that same year we would move to a little town called Benjamin Constant and that shortly thereafter, when Raegan was just 4 months old, we would meet a little brown-eyed girl that would rewrite everything we knew about parenthood and ourselves. I will never forget the night I laid there in bed and told Richard I felt like we should pray about adopting her.
I had no idea–not the slightest clue–what I was praying for.
I remember discussing the challenges we knew we would face. The language barrier, the physical and mental delays, the criticism from the locals; we knew it would be difficult. Those things now seem like child’s play.
When you hear people talk about adoption, you hear about how beautiful it is, this Gospel picture. I say it myself. The idea of redeeming a child from pain and suffering and hopelessness is undeniably inviting. To be a part of bringing hope and life to a child is one of our callings as followers of Christ. Beautiful indeed.
What we do not hear a whole lot about, however, is the ugly side. Without tragedy, there is no need for adoption. If something were not broken, there would be no need to fix it. If it were not for the fact that something went terribly wrong, adoption would not be necessary. Be it death or abuse or abandonment, intentional or otherwise, there is a tragic reason this child is in need of a different family from the one that shares the same bloodline and facial features.
There is a broken past with every single adopted child out there and it leaves a mark. Sometimes that mark is a faded scar that is barely noticeable to the untrained eye. Other times, it is a gaping flesh wound that needs constant attention and care. God chose to give us the latter. And it has been ugly. Because nothing prepares you for having to hold down that sought after child as she kicks and screams, “I want to go back to the street!!” And all because you are doing what no one else in her life ever has: you are loving her.
I will never forget googling “What if I don’t like my adopted daughter” and the relief I felt when articles actually popped up, announcing that these feeling of mine are actually common. In August, she completed one year in our home—and the single hardest year of our life. I look back at the child who stepped into our home that Friday night. Her scalp was so full of infection that the doctors prescribed four different medications to heal it. Her teeth were little pieces of black and brown bone jutting from her infected gums. Her hair was brittle and orange in color from lack of nutrition. Her eyes were wild, pupils enlarged as she tried to understand what was happening, her body conditioned to remain in a constant state of fight or flight. She carried her small backpack full of dirty, hole-ridden clothing that a person would not even consider donating to Goodwill.
This isn’t what it should look like, a family bringing in another. It should be that her biological mother tucks her in at night, along with her 7 biological siblings, assuring them of love and care. They should laugh together and go on outings together and she should know the love of a family with siblings and parents that look like her, speak like her. She should know the value of discipline and should be taught consequence. But we live in a fallen world where parents leave their own to roam the streets because they never knew any different themselves.
So our life as we knew it was destroyed that day. It was destroyed for the sake of redeeming this one. But we never knew what that would entail. It has been painful. No adoption is pain free. I am not referring to the hours spent at the courthouse or the paperwork that seems insurmountable. I do not mean the waiting game of home visits and Psychologist appointments. Those are the easy parts, my friends. The hard part is loving. And that is the part I never anticipated.
Shortly after our daughter moved in, the giddiness of having a new child wore off. It was like having a newborn to care for except that this newborn had been in survival mode for six and half years and thought she had a better idea than you of what she needed. The lies began and the manipulation commenced and suddenly, after just three months of having what now felt like a stranger in our home, we began to recoil. “What have we done?” I would ask myself, remembering our “perfect” family of four.
I would scroll through my Facebook newsfeed and the pictures of perfect families would dance across my screen, almost taunting me. I would close the app feeling guilt, regret, confusion. Pain. I often say if we had known what we were getting into before we got into it, we wouldn’t have gotten into it. And I know that is exactly why God does not often reveal His plans for us, because we would run away in fear of the trials that lie before us, not valuing the refining process that makes us a just a little more like Him.
Yesterday I looked at her as she sat across the table from me, unaware of my thoughts. Her hair is dark brown now and shines in the light. Her teeth, bright white and clean. We have had to buy her new shoes three times this year as her body catches up to the size it should be for her age. She is able to read now, something we had all but given up hope on as she didn’t know the difference between a letter and a number this time last year. She is beautiful on the outside—a whitewashed wall. Because you don’t raise yourself on the street for six and a half years with no consequence. So the lies and manipulation and disobedience flow so naturally to her that at times she doesn’t even perceive it. She resists our love. She has yet to grasp the fact that she no longer has to protect herself; she is safe here. So she hides behind the walls she built so long ago of self-preservation and self-focus and replaces each brick as we attempt to take them down.
There is a common perception out there that implies that adoption, because it is a concept based on the Gospel and because it is redeeming a child from their orphan status, is simple. Of course, we may be quick to admit that the process is complicated. The attorney and the judge and the biological parents or the orphanage and the paperwork and the waiting and the waiting and the waiting… that part is hard, but then—THEN—it’s smooth sailing. “All we need is love.” Right? Adoption is far from simple. I see heart-warming adoption quotes on social media all the time.
In fact, not long ago I stumbled across my own “Adoption” board on my Pinterest that coincidentally I created about the same time that journal entry was written and couldn’t help but laugh out loud and what my picture of adoption looked like back then. Back before the long nights and tears and confusion and calling out to God. Because once the Facebook pictures are posted and the excitement dies down over this new addition, you find yourself face to face alone with a reality that you did not stop to consider before: Yes, the Gospel is a picture of adoption into the family of Christ. And the Gospel includes immense amounts of suffering. Without death, there is no redemption. Without pain, there is no joy in victory. Over a year has passed now and mostly we are thankful that we have survived.
In the beginning, all day, every day was consumed with teaching truth and consequence, faith and repentance, and trying to discern the truth from the lies. And now most days are still that way but they have become graciously spaced out to where sometimes we actually feel like a functioning family of five on some level or another. Grace from Heaven. Why do I say all this? Not for a pity party, I assure you. We are taught to rejoice in our sufferings because it is through them that we are formed more into the image of our Savior. I say it, believe it or not, as an encouragement. I have read several blog posts and books this past year and the ones that encouraged me most were the ones that said something to this effect, ‘This adoption thing? It’s hard. You are going to fail at times. You are going to cry and ask ‘why?’, possibly often. You are going to feel overwhelmed. And guess what: sometimes you are going to struggle to love. But it is ok because you, on your own, can’t love anyway. It is impossible. But the good news is that through Christ, you can love unconditionally and without reciprocation. Hang in there. His mercy is new every day. And His grace is sufficient.’So to my fellow adoptive parents, who find themselves overwhelmed and overcome and cringe when they see the idealized photos of adoption: do not give up.
God has a purpose for this child and part of it is to refine you and teach you what unconditional love really looks like—messy. Another part—maybe the biggest—is to give you the slightest glimpse of the pain that Christ went through and the miracle it is that He can love us as He does. Oh, the miracle.
To those in the adoption process, do not let this discourage you, but also don’t write me off. There is a certain naivety in every new adoption. I know, I have been there and I believe that is also God’s grace measured out to us. Often God keeps us blinded to the realities of the trials we will face in order to grow our faith. It is necessary. “Oh, but you adopted an older child/out of birth order/foreign speaker. I’m adopting a newborn/young child/English speaker,” you may say. Irrelevant my friends. I know personal stories of children adopted from birth that have immense struggles. So listen to those who have gone before and prepare your hearts.
Pray for God to prepare you in ways that you do not even realize that you need to be prepared. Pray for faith and endurance. Pray for peace and hope. You will need all of these as you embark on this journey. For those who are reading this and have had a “smooth” attachment to your adopted child, hold your judgment. Instead of casting stones, throw up some prayers for those who adopted the more severely injured, those struggling to love, and those who dread another day. Be careful not to become self-righteous because your experience looks different. Rejoice that God chose to give you a child with less baggage in tow. This adoption thing is ugly. It takes time for broken things to mend. It takes time for wounds to heal.But you know what’s amazing about it all? He gives beauty for ashes. And that, my friends, is beautiful indeed.
Ashley writes about leaving behind who she thought she was to embrace who God says she is. She homeschools her three kids, advocates for the Amazon Network, and lives out adventures with her pilot husband.
You can find her writing, poetry and more on her story at www.streamsandthorns.com.
Podcasts she has been featured in:
She was also a contributor to the book, Hope for the Adoption Journey, on Amazon.com. All profits from the sale of the book goes to further assist adoptive families through the ministry of Show Hope.