The little black ringlets of hair curling round her rosy cheeks and dark brown eyes captured my heart at first sight. It’s a moment I’ll never forget. As the tears came out of nowhere and my heart exploded, it was instantaneous. Somewhere in that place a Mama feels the deepest of emotions, I knew she was ours. God had shown me the little girl He’d hand-picked for us halfway across the world.
It was love. A love that seemed surreal — but one I knew was a gift. I just wouldn’t understand the magnitude of that gift for many years to come.
Our adoption story wasn’t one of the easy ones. I don’t know that anyone has an “easy” story, but ours was riddled with unheard of obstacles, detours, and heartache.
I went into it believing I knew love. After all, I was married and a mother to two biological boys. I’d loved big and grieved much over the course of my life then followed up with lots of research and education on the topic of adoption.
As an elementary teacher, maybe I went into it with too much logic. Study, learn, experience — then conquer. Even with all my unknowns in life and the great big way in which God had rescued me, somehow, I thought …
“I’ve got this.”
But the truth is, when it came to love, there was a lot (and still is, I’m sure) I didn’t get. There was much I’d never even imagined.
Like, how joy and pain exist simultaneously. Or, how grief and love weave together forming a beautiful, intricate, yet complicated tapestry.
Through adoption, my eyes were opened as my heart broke into a million pieces. Then I was humbled and in awe of the God of the Universe as He put the pieces back together — forming a masterpiece I, in my simple-minded humanity, could never have even fathomed.
This is what adoption taught me about love … and loving well.
- Doesn’t always look the same. It isn’t always filled with sunshine and roses. It digs in and does what is needed, not what feels the easiest.
- Is patient. Adoption is a whole lot of hurry up and wait. Whether it’s waiting for paperwork or the adoption finalization, or it’s waiting for your child to bond or to heal, one season of waiting phases right into the next.
- Learns to lead with a busted give-a-darn. Your child will do things that give you cause to blush six shades of red and people, both strangers and those you dearly love, will say things to make you doubt your sanity. But loving well leaves your give-a-darn at the door so you can walk with your head held high advocating for the precious life you’ve been given to love and parent.
- Comes from a deeper relationship with Christ. The hardest of times bring out our deepest insecurities and weaknesses. The more we know Christ and grasp the depth of His love for us, the more we live confidently and lean into His strength in our weakness. That holy confidence is a part of loving ourselves His way and when we do that, we can then better love others. The negative power within our brokenness is stripped away.
- Has healthy boundaries. Storybook love tricks us into believing the more we give, allow, and sacrifice, the greater our love. Often that leads to enablement and unhealthy patterns. Love with boundaries gives us longevity, builds respect, and empowers our children to live to their fullest potential.
- Comes hand-in-hand with grief. Whether we adopt domestically or internationally, newborn or older child, our children’s stories originate from a place of grief. A biological mother may be making a courageous choice to give her child a life she is not capable of giving, but that choice doesn’t escape grief. Or, the biological mother whose broken life story has brought her to the point of having her child removed from her care, is wrought in grief. There is grief in our children whether they can identify that feeling or not. But right there in the midst of tragic stories and deep grief, rises love. A powerful love — a love that redeems, renews and heals.
- Is not always reciprocated. Because our children often come to us from difficult circumstances and tragic places of pain, their ability to love well is often affected. But even when diagnosed with such things as Reactive Attachment Disorder, because of the Father’s love for us that fills us, we can love our children without reciprocation.
- Is creative. It looks for out-of-the-box ways to demonstrate love and provide discipline. It doesn’t give up. Instead, it modifies.
- It embraces what “is” yet hopes for more. Sometimes our dream is very different from our reality. But even then, we can love well when we embrace our child right where they are, never giving up hope, and praying for the very best.
- Celebrated in the little moments. We leave the hard moments right where they were and celebrate the little moments of success along the way. Each little step matters and every blessing counts.
- Indifferent to origin. Whether our children grow in our wombs or in our hearts, God knits them deeply into our souls all the same.
- Pushes us out of our comfort zones and towards the best we have within us.
- Remembers God’s mercies are fresh with each rising sun. Nights are often long and situations seemingly unmanageable, but hope lives on when we hold onto God’s promise of a new day.
- Know not every battle must be fought right now. When we need a break, it’s okay to take one.
- Faces challenges with intentional research, learning, and prayer. If we aren’t intentional about what we are learning and praying, we get off course or allow confusion room to flourish.
- Keeps its eyes firmly on the good — on blessings, successes, progress. It keeps its eyes on Christ and all He is doing each and every day.
- Intentionally praises God in gratitude at the start of each day. When our first words each day praise and thank God, it jumpstarts the right attitude to rise up within us. That is an attitude that conquers and sees hope. It is an attitude that begets love.
That little girl with the rosy cheeks lives safely in our home today. It took us two years from the time I saw that face to the day she climbed into my arms forever. After 7 years, we can look back and see all the ways God has blessed, changed, redeemed, and deepened our understanding of love and of loving well.
I know our lessons are far from over, but today the gift is in that knowing. Today I’m open to the learning. I know God will use each new season, situation, or challenge to bring us closer to Him and teach us about loving well.
As a wife, adoptive and biological mom, teacher, writer, speaker, and coach, Lori’s heart is to encourage others to meet the challenges of life with the hope of Christ. Wherever you find yourself today – walking through the difficult, longing to find and follow your purpose, or simply experiencing a season of beautiful chaos, Lori’s blog found at www.LoriSchumaker.com is a place where you can find the encouragement you need today. In November she is releasing her first book as she shares her family’s adoption story and lessons on loving well.
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