Friday morning I found myself in the middle of 800 other people, shuffling through a wide church auditorium for an empty chair. The eager fellowship was palpable–people who’d never met before vigorously shaking hands, hugging and swapping stories. I slipped in alone, and was sitting quietly twiddling a pen, but even in my own wide-eyed silence, I’d rarely ever felt so enveloped by a community. Hearing flashes of conversations, stories, greetings–the whole room crying out in one voice, “Thank God, I’m not alone.”
This wasn’t a normal adoption conference. It was not a pep talk for starry-eyed couples looking to add an adorable multicultural baby to their picture-perfect family. This was a room full of very broken, very desperate people who were looking for answers. People who had stared into their child’s frightened eyes with nothing to offer them, and no power to heal. People who sat slumped in hallways while their child screamed for hours…and hours… and hours. Beautiful men and women who had reached the end of their rope, tied a knot and hung on, begging God for mercy with blistered, bleeding hands.
We needed help. I needed help. I’m not a parent; I’m not even living with my siblings anymore, but I desperately needed a grid through which to understand the past, present and future of the children most precious in all the world to me.
There was no easy answer. No 5 step plan. No quick trick to a peaceful home, an easy life, and a postcard family. Just one word: connect.
Connect with a child.
How do you connect with a child whose entire being, down to the very synapses in their brain, has been molded, wired and formed to build mile high walls? To survive. To protect. To fight fiercely, wildly to keep themselves safe no matter what the cost. How do you cup a three-year old’s face gently in your hands and tell them they are safe–that everything, everything, they’ve done to stay alive needs to be left behind now–that you will care for them, and that you will move Heaven and earth to meet their needs? How do you show them?
How do you show them that you love them at their absolute worst?
How do you show them that you will lay down everything to meet their true needs?
How do you live Christ, every moment of every day?
How do you lose your life–so overcome in the rich power of a greater being that from HIS wealth you can pour, and pour, and pour?
Oh Father, help me for I am so very weak.
There was a lot to learn.
I wish I could post it all here–make some coherent sense of the sixteen pages of bold, highlighted and underlined notes.
Here’s my best attempt at the highlights. Two days of speaking, one book and countless DVD’s into the few things that smacked me across the face. I hope you find them helpful.
All of them, the deeply practical and mundane to the euphorically spiritual, boiled down to one thing–live like Christ.
Wow Marli. Much revelation. Such deepness. I know.
But it’s true. I was rocked, really rocked when confronted by the cold reality of how much growth is ahead. How much patience and perseverance this path will require. How much grace and forgiveness.
Good thing I’ve got a much stronger man carrying the burden for me. I love Him. And I really want to be more like Him.
And there’s an awful lot of practical ways to do that ahead.
Good thing Jesus was all about practical. I’m grateful to serve a God who jumped at the opportunity to wash a lineup of smelly feet.
So when I rub lotion up and down their dry, wiry legs, massage between their fingers, and play with their hair I can whisper over and over again His sweet words “You don’t realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
That love comes day-in and day-out… That he has “set you an example that you should do as I have done for you”
But what does that look like?
How do you take a child built by chaos, pain and danger, and teach them love? Let them understand themselves through the Lord’s eyes…
Because God the Father has provided eternal safety. He has given them a voice. He understands that their life was formed with purpose, and He so loved them, that he gave the blood of His Son to pay for their redemption. That is radical preciousness.
And because I love organization, check boxes and flow sheets, we’re gonna break it down:
1. They need to feel safe.
2. They need to have a voice.
3. They needed to feel like their life has meaning.
4. They need to feel precious
Behind these breezy, pleasant words, how do you do this? In the middle of scheduling, and meltdowns, and tantrums and manipulation?
You pray. Long and hard. And you research. Long and hard. And you work to understand how you can best glorify the Lord with your child.
Good luck. I’m sharing what I can, and what was passed on to me. I’m not even a parent yet. Feel free to laugh at the impracticality of my idealized statements. I know just enough to laugh callously with you. But I’m going to keep trying, and I’m going to keep learning…
1. Make Them Feel Safe
Remember, these kids have often been without nourishing food and water for long periods of time. Trauma–difficult pregnancy, drugs and alcohol en utero, difficult birth, early hospitalization, physical, emotional, sexual abuse–all makes it physically harder for their bodies to metabolize food and water. What many experts recommend is that children with a history of trauma have access to food and water every two hours. That they are given food, easily accessible upon request, in a structured, safe environment, taking the need to control it out of their hands. They are taught that their needs WILL be provided for.
And not just their physical needs. They need hugging, snuggling, massaging, connecting, giggling, all the random little flourishes we take for granted, they have missed. They need for Serotonin and Melatonin. Use touch intentionally and lavishly.
2. Give Them a Voice
When a baby cries, it’s mother picks it up. She hears it’s voice. Many of these children lay in a soiled diaper, staring cross-eyed at a ceiling, crying and crying and crying, while no one came. No one asked if they were fed, or cleaned or loved. No one asked whether they wanted to be taken out of the home. No one asked what foster home they wanted to go in to. No one asked if they wanted to be separated from their siblings. They had no voice.
In anger, some scream and thrash and punch, frantically reaching to be heard. In pain, some of them curl up and clam silent, forcing those around them to dig for their thoughts and words as they desperately bid for control.
Teach them how to express their needs. Look past their frantic attempts to control the situation, take the control out of their hands, and show them they can use their words to express their fears. Work in the good moments. Teach them how to identify emotions in a calm moment, and how to verbalize it, so that when the storm strikes, you can head for the shelter. Create a concrete game plan for expressing feelings, and run it through with them.
3. Make Them Feel Like Their Life Has Meaning
Shame runs miles deep. If many of us as healthy, loved individuals can spend months masticating on one awkward mistake, how long do you think a child with little sense of self-worth will think on theirs? They have felt worthless, unloved and abandoned – even at the most subconscious psychological levels.
Show them they are not. Give them structure, schedule and routine to help them understand that they can accomplish something. Engage with them in building and creating, conquering. Help them see and understand their progress – even if “progress” means something as simple as letting a piece of food drop to the floor and *gasp* stay there.
4. Make Them Feel Precious
Turn those tables… Engage with them. Give them your full attention. Memorize their moods, their needs, their fears, their triggers, and their loves. Show them they are meaningful, because they are loved by Christ. Show them that they are not worthless. Value eye contact and for every ounce of structure, add an ounce of nurture. Show them they are worth it, and they contribute.
Tell them the story of how one beautiful, powerful, almighty God descended from the heights of Heaven to give their soul purpose – to rescue them from the one who rules in the kingdom of darkness and bring them into the kingdom of His dear Son.
There’s so much more here… So much more I want to say, but it’s 12:41am, and I’m quickly running out of steam.
Maybe another time.
Remember their story. Remember that you have been loved in all your darkness, and love them as they run towards the light…
“I honor that these behaviors kept you alive, but in this home, these are not going to work. What can I do to meet your need?” – Dr. Karyn Purvis