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Hope and Healing for Parenting Adopted Children

God can heal your wounded child and bring peace to your heart as a parent. May you pray for your child more fervently, love more than humanly possible, and trust that God will do far more than you dare to ask or think.

I wasn't one of those little girls who grew up dreaming of adopting kids from all over the world. My husband, Aaron, and I never talked about adoption before we married, and yet three of our four children are adopted.

After the birth of our first son, Cayden, Aaron and I found ourselves surrounded by families pursuing adoption from China. The church we attended had started an adoption ministry, and we witnessed our peers stepping out in faith to adopt. It was through many conversations with these families that God laid it on our hearts to adopt our next child.

God added Deacon to our family as an infant in November 2005 through domestic adoption, but He wasn't done. Our lives were changed one evening in September 2007 when I was drawn to a photograph on a blog. A missionary woman in Haiti had written a heartfelt post about an abandoned little boy in desperate need of a family. Never before and never since have I felt the tangible movement of God in my heart for a specific child as I did for Amos. It was as if God leaned down and whispered in my ear, "Jamie, this is the son I have planned for you. He will be yours. Trust Me."

Over the next few months God provided ways to begin the process to adopt not only Amos, but also our beautiful daughter, Story, who was born in Haiti in November 2007.

After more than two painful years of the international adoption process, the family finally became complete. Story arrived home in October 2009, and our sweet Amos joined our family in January 2010, just 10 days after a magnitude 7 earthquake devastated his country.

I'm sure people assumed that finally having our four children at home with us were some of the happiest times for our family, but things were not as simple as they might have seemed. On one hand, Aaron and I were thrilled that the long adoption journey had ended, but it was just the beginning of Amos' difficult transition from abandoned orphan to fully accepted and embraced son.

A Rude Awakening

Aaron and I had no idea what would be in store for our family that year. Amos' little four-and-a-half-year-old heart had been through more hurt and disappointment than any child should endure. From birth to coming to our house, all he had ever known was loneliness, isolation, lack of attachment, and abandonment. Children with forms of attachment disorder can struggle deeply throughout their transition to their adoptive family.

During that first year I wondered if we had done the right thing. When Amos would shut down emotionally and cry in his bed for hours, I wondered if we had destroyed his life by taking him through an impossible transition. When he reacted to loving embraces with screams of anger, I wondered if I had ruined our other kids' lives. Would our family life ever be "normal" again (whatever that means)?

Aaron and I have endured many hard times since Amos has come home, and we've learned many things - perhaps the greatest lesson is that bringing a wounded child into a family isn't always as glamorous and smooth as we might hope. Scarred children may bring unimaginable pain into their new family. They may have a void in their hearts that will take years to fix. And in the end, only God can heal their wounds, not us. Our role as parents is to love them well.

I had read numerous adoption books but still wasn't prepared for the rejection that I would feel when Amos was unable to love me back. During our adoption process, I read Lark Eshleman's Becoming a Family, which describes what I have felt so many times over the past few years:

"Your child, when she was removed from her birth mother, experienced a break in normal bonding. Just as when we are rejected by a person very close to us emotionally, the experience can leave us extremely cautious of allowing ourselves to be vulnerable again. So, by virtue of the fact that you are now trying to form an attachment with her, she will try to push you away. Be ready for it. If you are not ready or do not have enough support, you will be confused and hurt by that rejection."

I had read this before Amos came home and thought I could grasp this truth. But I soon realized how unprepared I was for the emotional rejection I felt as his mother.

When your son whom you have prayed over for years doesn't trust your love, it hurts. When Amos was first home, I would repeatedly tell him that I loved him, and every time his first response was, "Why?" None of my other kids have ever asked me that! They've known it and have felt it from the beginning, but Amos missed out on four years of assurance of his parents' unconditional love. He had no idea why I loved him, and he couldn't trust me, no matter how hard he tried. His heart had been hurt so deeply from a history of abandonment and neglect that he couldn't trust my love. He had no idea how to love me back.

One day while Amos was pushing me away, I realized that I don't treat Amos like God treats me when I push away from Him. God has never left me. He's never forsaken me. He has never treated me as if I were a lost cause. He just keeps lavishing love on me. He keeps whispering His promises in my heart. He keeps leading my paths. He just keeps loving me, regardless of my returning that love.

I have never given up on Amos, but my sinful heart made it hard to continue loving him when he didn't always reciprocate that love. There were days that my heart was weary from trying to love him. My soul felt too heavy to intercede for him and too heavy to understand the pain and sorrow he was going through.

A New Perspective

Amos has been home almost three years now, and God has not only changed his heart but ours through this journey. God has illuminated insecurities, idols of control and comfort, and areas of extreme selfishness as parents.

As I continue to think about the patient, faithful, and unending love God has lavished on me, my love for my children continues to deepen. I'm reminded to view my children as the Father views me. I'm reminded to view Amos through a lens of grace and mercy. As I think about my Heavenly Father's unconditional love for me, I have no choice but to love Amos, regardless of whether he reciprocates that love. So, I will fight for him. I will defend him. I will love him. I will hold him. I will serve him. I will show grace to him.

A Healing Heart

Through God's renewing of my heart, I have seen Amos' heart healing as well. He's more trusting, loving, and confident of my love than ever before. Just a couple months ago, I was tucking Amos in bed and discussing his behavior from earlier in the day. He'd had a hard time obeying, and we were talking through it. Then I told him that even though he disobeyed, I still loved him so much. As those words left my mouth, huge tears swelled from his eyes and began to run down his face.

Amos still struggles to trust my love when he's in trouble. He still tries to perform to make sure I keep loving him and accepting him. But I end every day telling him, "Amos, I love you no matter what you do."

Don't we all want to know that from the ones who love us? Isn't that how God treats us? No matter how much we mess up, He just keeps whispering to us, "Child, I love you no matter what you do."

If you are in the middle of a similar adoption struggle, trust that we serve a big God who is faithful. His desire is for us to parent with strength from Him alone. I've tried to love Amos through my own strength, and I fail every time. I can't do it. I can't take the hurt. Instead, I must surrender to loving Amos with a love I can't evoke. In the end, what Amos needs most is the love of Christ through me.

Ephesians 3:20 reminds us of the great hope we have in the power of Christ's love: "Now to Him who is able to do above and beyond all that we ask or think according to the power that works in us." Friends, God can do it. We cannot. When you are struggling to love, hold tight to His promise: "My God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:19).

God knows what you need, and although it's hard at times to believe, you can trust Him. You aren't alone in your struggle. Seek Him, read literature on parenting hurt children, and find a professional adoption counselor who is committed to your child and your family.

God can heal your wounded child and bring peace to your heart as a parent. He can tame anger, mend tragic pasts, and cure what may seem incurable. May you pray for your child more fervently, love more than humanly possible, and trust that God will do far more than you dare to ask or think.

This article is courtesy of HomeLife Magazine.

Ivey, Jamie
Jamie Ivey is a podcaster, writer, and speaker from Austin, Texas. She is the proud mama to four kids and the wife to Aaron, worship pastor of The Austin Stone Community Church. Jamie loves to encourage women to passionately follow Jesus through whatever stage of life. She does this through writing and her weekly podcast, The Happy Hour with Jamie Ivey. Jamie's debut book "If You Only Knew: My Unlikely, Unavoidable Story of Becoming Free," releases January 2018.