My wife Candice and I have been blessed with four children: two through birth and two through adoption. Our journey from foster parents to adoptive parents is a story in itself; we took a winding road to adoption, fostering three different children long-term, and thinking we were going to adopt each time, only to see them go to their relatives. We were and are so glad that they could be with their families, but letting them go after we’d come to love them was incredibly painful. Finally we were able to adopt Isabel and Guy, and we know that the journey was worth every tear.
Like most adoptive parents, we cringe whenever someone asks about our kids’ “real” parents (what are we, holograms?) or asks which ones are “ours” (if some of them aren’t ours, why do we feed them?). Those who have adopted know that a parent’s relationship with and love for their adopted kids is not one iota less real than with biological kids. When someone asks us which of our kids were adopted, we actually have to think about it to remember. We aren’t ashamed of how our family came together, but to be honest, the word “adoption” rarely crosses our minds anymore.
And yet, parenting a child who was adopted is different from parenting a biological child. It has a different set of challenges, and, we are coming to realize, a different set of blessings. Isabel and Guy came to live with us when she was five and he was two – Ella was one and Cora was not yet born. We’d fostered babies and toddlers, so we thought we knew what we were doing. But no two children are the same, and Isabel and Guy brought different trials and joys than we’d ever seen.
At first, they were utterly wild. They were hyper to the nth degree and didn’t seem to be able to calm down. Guy would have emotional meltdowns when he was in a different room than Isabel. And Isabel, as much as she loved Guy, was exhausted from having to be his parent; they’d been shuffled from foster home to foster home for over a year, and she had to take care of him in many ways. Because they were still in survival mode, they formed relationships with adults very easily, but those were superficial; the children hoped that each new adult in their lives would provide for their needs.
God spoke to us through their neediness, and He still does. Now that we have two biological children, we are beginning to understand the importance of a safe and nurturing environment in the first years of life. Our biological children are confident and don’t question their identity or worth. We don’t have to prove to them again and again that we love them and want to keep them; they just trust us because they’ve been able to since before they were born. Our adopted children need ongoing reassurance of their place and their value; they are insecure and wonder if they are really wanted. We love them all equally, but they each need something different from us.
We’re learning things about God through our children that we would not have had the opportunity to learn if we hadn’t adopted. Here are a few:
1. God won’t reject us or give us back.
Our adopted kids, after being shuffled from home to home – sometimes because they were “too much too handle” – always wonder in the back of their minds if we might give them away if they don’t behave. In the early days, even after the official adoption, we told them often, “You kids are stuck with us forever, because we’re your forever parents.” We don’t have to say it as much anymore, but we know they still think about it. Guy freaks out if he’s the last one out of the house (he’s afraid he’ll be left behind), and Isabel often holds her tongue, not because she wants to be obedient, but because she’s learned not to rock the boat.
We understand better now how silly we Christians are when we fear that God will reject us because we’ve done something wrong. We could no sooner reject any of our children as we could reject one of our limbs. Once we have adopted them, we are a forever family, and none of our places in it depends on our performance. Our place in God’s family is even more secure than that. This truth makes sense to us in a deeper way now.
2. God the Father loves us like He loves Jesus.
Even though we might have to parent them differently, in our hearts and affections, we make no distinction between the children who joined our family through birth and those who came through adoption. They are all Siverlings, and we’re proud of them all. In fact, we’re often torn over how much to talk about their adoption; on the one hand, we love adoption, and we want our kids to love it. We also understand that if other families know adopted kids, they’re more likely to adopt, and we want to encourage adoption as a picture of the Gospel. On the other hand, when we talk a lot about adoption, we feel like we’re pointing out a difference between our children depending on how they came to be ours, and we don’t want them to feel like they’re different to us.
Ultimately, though, adoption has helped us understand that when the Bible says that Jesus is God’s “only begotten Son” (John 3:16), and that we are adopted into the family of God (Galatians 4:5), that doesn’t mean we’re second-tier children; the Father loves us as He loves Jesus, and He sees us through the lens of Jesus’ righteousness. That is incredible, and we understand it better because we received our children through different means.
3. Our neediness and baggage aren’t burdens for God to bear, but wounds He loves to heal.
Isabel and Guy take more work to parent because of the love and stability they missed in their first years of life. They have emotional baggage and behavioral problems that Ella and Cora don’t have to struggle with. But as their parents, we don’t see them as a burden to bear. They’re just our kids, and it is our delight to give them what they need.
We don’t feel like it’s “not fair” that we need to do research about childhood trauma, that we need to work with counselors and behavioral specialists, or that we need to meet with their teachers to discuss how our kids might behave in school. We get exhausted like anyone, but it really is a blessing to feel that we can help them, and it breaks our hearts to think of kids still in the foster system that don’t receive the love and support they need.
This has helped us understand that we are not a burden or a headache to God. He is infinitely patient and loving, and He delights in seeing our wounds healed and watching us walk in victory and restoration. Whatever part we can play in our children living abundant lives, we will do. As small and selfish as we are, that gives us a tiny glimpse into how God must feel when He sees us grow and mature in faith and find victory over our challenges. Our kids, even when they are challenging, are a delight to us. And we, even though we are challenging, are a delight to our Father.
4. Other people might not understand what adoption means – we might be weird in the world.
Sometimes people wonder why we’ve adopted, when we’re able to “have our own.” We’ve had opportunities to share that God clearly led us to grow our family this way, and that adoption is a picture of the Gospel. We’ve been able to witness to people that we never would have had the chance to talk to if we hadn’t adopted. We are different from our neighbors, and that gets people asking questions and wondering why we live the way we do.
We suspect that some people are more willing to ask us about adoption because we also have biological children; people feel less intimidated to ask questions if they think they won’t have to talk about infertility, which can be an emotional topic.
And having adopted children gives us opportunity after opportunity to talk about our adoption into God’s family, which also looks strange (and sometimes downright crazy) to people living in a culture that is all about self. God coming to Earth to redeem us and invite us into His forever family is unfathomably loving and generous. He loved us so much that He adopted us, problem children with all kinds of issues and hang-ups. He knew exactly what He was getting into and what a project you and I would be, and He chose adoption anyway. If our family can be a little picture of that, we’re delighted, because that’s the most important story in the universe.
5. There are many lost sheep still out there.
Becoming parents through the foster system was a heartbreaking process. Not only did we witness firsthand the consequences of parents’ sin on children’s lives, we were also made aware of just how many lost and hurting kids there are. We’re so glad we belong to a church that pursues every child with the love of Jesus. It will take the whole church to do what God has called us to do, because there are so many kids and families that need help.
We wish we could foster or adopt every neglected, hurt, and orphaned child. We can’t, but we can spread the word to other Christian families about this desperate need, and encourage them to ask God what they can do to help. We originally got into foster parenting because we wanted to adopt a child and then be done dealing with a broken system. First, God stretched us by calling us to adopt two children (biological siblings). Then He stretched us by calling us not to forget what we’ve seen or to stop telling others about the work to be done.
Before Orlando and Pam and Joe and Jeanne Basso got us involved in the foster system, we were totally unaware of this need in our city. We can’t claim ignorance anymore. Now that we have done what God called us to do in adoption, we must be an ongoing reminder to the Church that there are a lot of Isabels and Guys still out there, waiting for restoration of their families or for forever families. God has called and equipped His Church to care for the orphans and widows (James 1:27).
The Good Shepherd is not satisfied with having ninety-nine sheep; He goes after the lost one (Matthew 18, Luke 15). He came and rescued Candice and me, and He’s using us in the lives of our kids. He invites everyone He’s saved to join Him in the great search-and-rescue; we get to participate with the King of the Universe in inviting the lost and broken into the family of God. Foster parenting and adoption are one way to do that. If all the people of the Church were willing to honestly ask God what He would have them do, and simply obey (through whatever heartache might come), it would completely transform the our community, and many people’s lives. Isabel and Guy were lost sheep; now Isabel has prayed to accept Jesus with saving faith, and Guy is asking lots of questions and understanding more all the time. We understand the parable of the lost sheep better than ever because of these kids.
Adopting two kids was the hardest thing we’ve ever done as a married couple. And it was one of the greatest blessings of our lives. As much as we’ve been hurt during this journey – falling in love with foster kids only to watch them go, and seeing the pain of children throughout the system – we wouldn’t change a moment of our story. It has taught us to hold tightly to Jesus, and to trust Him in ways that we never would have learned on an easy road. God adopted us into His family, and we are beginning to really understand just how incredible that is. We are so thankful for the beautiful, messy grace of adoption.