Our Ghana adoptions have had some very unique aspects and I wanted to share about those today…
As we’ve been out and about the past few days (two of JJ’s basketball games, Kingdom Cares Fundraiser/Kingdom Hoops Kick-off, church) a lot of people have remarked that our girls seem so well-adjusted and content to be with us. They are nothing less than shocked of how quickly the girls have just ‘fit right in’. I am amazed myself. This morning we got to church early and on time. I saw one of my friends in the hallway and she said, “I didn’t expect to see you here so early!” I responded with, “I didn’t either!”
Another friend said, “Wow! I can’t believe how you just look like a normal family walking down the hallway like you’ve done this a hundred times. Everyone is just happy, calm, and collected!”
On our plane rides it was interesting because I started to realize that onlookers had NO CLUE that we were bringing our girls home on this trip. People thought that we had already been a family. I realized this when I struck up a conversation with two different flight attendants and a couple of passengers on our first two flights. One of the flight attendants asked, “Where is your family headed today?” When I explained where we had been, that our adoption had completed and we were bringing our girls home for the first time she was astonished! “No way! They are so good with you. They already act like they are your daughters!” After she said that it hit me why none of the flight attendants had offered us ‘wings’ for the girls yet (the little pins that you get when it is your first time flying). They didn’t realize that this was our homecoming trip!
We received a lot of similar remarks at our Kingdom Cares event on Friday evening. Although we were around crowds of people, Jasara was absolutely zoned in on me. We played tons of games of peek-a-boo, I chased her on the courts and would catch her and tickle her, as I talked to people she played around my legs holding onto them tightly. When I was holding her and others would try to talk to her she would look up at me to see how to respond. If she was running on the courts and someone tried to talk to her she would come right back over to me. A few people held out their arms to hold her, and each time she would clearly deny their invitation by leaning back into me and turning her head away from them. This was also the first time that we were around a lot of Africans since we’d been in Ghana, and her response was consistent. She would look at them if they talked to her, but she wouldn’t go to them. She only wanted Mommy.
Jennifer ran around with a pack of girls at the event, returning to me a few times to ‘check in’ with one of the girls that I asked to help her. Her behavior was great. She responded in obedience to everything we asked her to do. Socially, she did fine with the group of girls her age. It’s crazy that I am finding she doesn’t have near the social behavior problems that Justice had when he first came. The expression on her face at the event was what Jake explained as being “thrilled to death”. She was so happy to get to run and play with other girls her age!
Please don’t confuse this as bragging or think that I am telling you this to act like we’ve got it all together, or that this is easy. We don’t and it’s not. I am telling you this because I want you to know that how our girls are adjusting feels completely supernatural. To me, it is showcasing the power of God. This doesn’t at all feel like the ‘honeymoon period’ that we’ve experienced a few times in our home as we’ve brought in other children. This feels different than that. I know that so many people are praying for us - specifically that our transition would be smooth - and God is answering that prayer 100 times over. Please don’t let up on praying for us!
In addition, I wanted to explain something that has been a little different in our adoptions compared to perhaps the journeys of others. All three of our adopted children were fatherless. Yet, they did each have experience with a loving, non-abusive birthmother. I’m not saying that this magically solves all their issues. But I am saying that because of this, when our adopted children have come to us, we have observed that each of them already know how to receive love, and they do not reject it. We do not need to teach our kids how to attach. They’ve already experienced the how within the relationship with their birthmother. Rather we are changing the attachment figure. So, we do need to teach them to attach to us.
This is not to minimize the grief our girls are experiencing as a result of losing loved ones, their familiar environment, and every routine and expectation that they’ve known their entire life. But there is a big difference between “normal” grief as compared to personality and attachment problems caused by neurological damage and extreme, early neglect and abuse.
When we went into Ghana adoption the first time around I had no idea about any of this. I couldn’t really put my finger on why Justice had no signs of attachment issues and I was amazed at how easily he transitioned into our family...don’t get me wrong it was a lot of work, and there were times when I thought I was going to go crazy. But on his part, he really adapted extremely well to his new life. For awhile I felt like I couldn’t even advocate for adoption because we didn’t face many of the ‘hard issues’ that prospective adoptive parents were asking me about. I didn’t have strategies for what to do about continual lying or attachment or psychological problems. We just didn’t need them - we were able to use similar parenting strategies with Justice that we did with our other two kids. I am not saying that as a whole every single Ghana adoption is like this. It’s definitely not. I am also not saying that we would never adopt from another country if we were to adopt again. We definitely would if God led us elsewhere. What I know is that God has hand-picked our adopted children for our family, in details and on purpose. Because of this, it really does feel to us like they ‘fit right in’. God’s foreknowledge and Sovereignty is something I can praise Him and thank Him for in each of our adoption journeys.
Speaking for our bio kids, one thing that has helped our transition in essentially becoming a blended family is that from the beginning Jake has been very insistent on us trying to keep everything the same. We stick to the same routine, go the same places, do the same things. We don’t stop life when our adopted kids come. They rather come along for the ride. This might not work for other adoptive families, especially those who are dealing with attachment issues. But it works for us, and we see healthy responses from both our bio and adoptive kids in ordering life in this way. Again, this is not to minimize the hardships. Jayla in particular had a hard day yesterday in watching me give attention and affection to her sisters. There was one point in the car where I was playing peek-a-boo with Jasara and Jayla started her spontaneous, quiet tears and said that she wanted to come sit with me. I ended up crawling in the back to sit with her, and after 20 minutes of snuggling we were home and she had perked up and was ready to roll again. When she reacts like this, it is so easy for Satan to come sneaking in whispering lies to make me feel guilty or feel bad about how this adoption is affecting my relationship with Jayla. But I have to remember TRUTH! Yes, this feels hard on our relationship at times. Yes, this feels sacrificial at times. But God is there!!! God is here!!! This is where we learn that taking up our cross to follow Jesus daily (Luke 9:23) means dying to ourselves, so that others can be helped. I trust that through this adoption the Lord will expand Jayla’s capacity to love others selflessly, unconditionally, and in total compassion. As I entrust her to the Lord, I know that I am freeing her to receive the unique spiritual understandings and blessings that the Lord can and will provide through this journey. She and I will learn to rely on Him more and ourselves less. This will be a lay-down-our-lives kind of love (and faith) in action. And we will walk through it together.
Things feel to be going on the right path in the attachment department thanks be to God and God alone. In addition there are also other parts of this adoption in which we must rely on God to intervene and come through. I will try hard in this adoption journey to do a better job of posting about those, while at the same time being mindful to not ‘air my kids’ dirty laundry’ all over the internet. On Saturday for example we had to begin discipline with Jennifer. Because she is psychologically intact and because we know her history, we will discipline her in the same way that we have our other children unless God shows us something different – which He hasn’t yet. We follow the biblical model of discipline outlined in the book ‘Sheparding A Child’s Heart’. In this particular situation, after discipline was over Jennifer displayed a heart that was hardened against correction. Pouting. Going ‘limp noodle’ when Jake tried to physically move her out of the middle of the hallway where she had planted herself. Refusing to rejoin the group in play, etc. In the ‘Sheparding’ book, the author talks about how the discipline session is not over until the relationship between the parent and child is restored and you are back in re-connection. It was clear that Jennifer knew what behavior she had done that was wrong, but I could tell from her response that she still needed to hear something that had been lost in translation. I knew God was going to have to do something supernaturally because of the language barrier. Jennifer cannot understand much of what we are saying yet, so of course that makes it extremely hard to explain or reason with her.
At this point, we let Jennifer pout in the hallway. I went into my room and sent out a text message prayer request to some friends. It said….
We had to start discipline with Jennifer today. Could you please cover her in prayer, specifically that God would somehow show her that discipline is love. Pray that she would not harden her heart against correction and that God would help in the translation so that she understands the explanation of why she was disciplined and that we still love her.
From there I heard Jake ask Jennifer to join the group in heading outside to play. I went out into the living room and saw her go and hide behind the couch. Jake said, “She’s all yours.” It was then that I felt the Lord tell me to go over to her and scoop her up. And what happened next was purely the work of God. I started talking to her but they were not words that I had been planning to say. In my head I had been rehearsing and repeating to myself the truths found in Hebrews 12:7-11. I kept telling my heart: discipline is love, discipline is love! I was planning on giving her some sort of rendition of that. But instead God said through my mouth, “Mommy and Daddy FORGIVE you. We are not mad at you for what you’ve done. You do not need to be ashamed. Discipline is love. Because we love you, we must discipline you when you don’t obey. If we didn’t discipline you then that means that we don’t love you. But now we have FORGIVEN you and we would like you to come PLAY.” I wasn’t planning on talking to her about forgiveness. But I realized that God must know that she knows what that word means in English because after she heard it she absolutely MELTED in my arms, layed her head on my shoulder, and let me embrace her in a long snuggle as tears of a softened heart rolled down her cheeks. I had broken through.
Then it hit me. God had also given me the word “ashamed”. I hadn’t been thinking about that either.
In Ghana, when children are disciplined they are also ‘shamed’. It is proper (and almost expected) for them to show these outward behaviors of feeling sorry for what they’ve done – such as isolating themselves from the group, wearing a sad-downcast face, no eye contact with the adult that disciplined them, etc. It is their shame on display so that the adult who disciplined them can be confident that they got the message and that discipline won’t be needed again. It’s so hard to explain this in words but if you’ve been to Ghana then you know what I mean. Anyways, by this time Jake was outside playing with the kids in the yard. I motioned to them and said to her, “Are you ready to go play?” She shook her head no. I sat with her a little longer, then went back to my work as she laid in the living room. About 5 minutes went by, she walked up to my bedroom door which was open and said, “Play.”
I smiled and said, “Are you ready to go outside and play?”
“Yes,” she said.
VICTORY!!!!!!!!!!!! WHOOP WHOOP! I helped her get her shoes and coat on and out she went with Jake and the rest of the kids with a light heart and happy demeanor!
Just a tiny example of why I could not even think about attempting to live this life, taking part in adoption, or raising 5 kids without relying on God to come through. It’s those little moments like discipline with Jennifer that are actually really big moments when it comes to adoption. We are adapting/adjusting/transitioning/learning because He is all that we need, just when we need it.
John 15:5 ~ I am the vine: you are the branches. If a man remains in Me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing.