It was the quickest decision I’d ever made in a grocery aisle. My husband, Ernie, saw me answer my phone as he carted around our ten month old son and tried to figure out who I was talking to.
“Yes. Y…yes. Okay, 8 months?” I darted my eyes towards Ernie, who was still curious. “When will we need to be ready? Okay, so tomorrow.” Ernie quickly rolled towards me, feeling complete freedom to interrupt with, “So, who is this?”
The next morning we picked up our daughter from a children’s group home. Can I just describe her to you for a moment? She was like a ripe, juicy, chubby baby, just waiting to be squeezed to pieces. She had the most perfect, milk chocolate skin, and wispy curls just trying to push through on top of her head, though just the very top. She reached for Ernie like he was the love of her life she’d been waiting for, and just melted into his strong, safe arms. She was absolutely changed after that first hug from a father who wanted to love her forever.
We fed her sweet potatoes and sang to her, tried to get our son and her to be her new best friend. We took her to the park and rocked her to sleep at night. She was enjoying every bit of affection we could give.
I got another phone call. This little girl had a brother and he needed a placement as soon as possible too. They’d been separated a week and a half prior to her joining our home. We prayed for wisdom and walked into another group home, we picked up a giggly, grinning little boy who had a head full of curls, and the same perfect, milk chocolate skin. He walked with me to the car and we had his sister waiting outside. I can’t describe to you what it was like for them to reunite, but what I can say is, though her brother had a significant speech delay, his eyes sang “I found you” and he touched her shoulder. It was beautiful to be able to bring them together.
It didn’t take long before our daughter, whom we later named her T, and our son, whom we later named J, showed significant challenges. The road before us looked a lot longer as a few years later, and challenges rose rapidly. As the mother, especially, I quickly felt deeply inadequate and began to fear the battles that would come. Tantrums would explode that I couldn’t explain, distant and cold eyes would not be able to look into mine, hands and feet would become physically combative where I’d have to find a safe place for them. And I clearly felt my own anger rise like never before and wanted to keep them safe even from my own words. What was (still is) going on?
What is happening when you cannot help your daughter who is pushing away and her eyes tell us she’s currently away from you emotionally? What do we do when we physically cannot control our son who has suddenly been struck with anger and he cannot come back to a calm and peaceful state?
What is going on when your child’s sibling accidentally brush against their shoulder and in the blink of an eye your child is hissing at everyone in the family and throwing punches at anyone who might come near?
For the children from difficult places that come to our homes, it’s likely they have never experienced the goodness of a mother or father reaching for them when they were crying out as a newborn, or immediately soothed after a big fall. It’s possible they’ve never felt the comfort of an outside person bringing them down to a level of peace.
Parents are like external emotional control panels. Babies do not yet know how to feel comforted and safe on their own. They need to be picked up when fearful or hungry and have someone bring their emotions back down as they hear “Shhh,” or “I’m here, it’s okay”. Babies cry, parents arrive. They cry out again, parents give the same care. The cycle happens so many times for a child that they understand some idea of regulation and trust that they will be cared for. It’s their beginning experiences of a God who says, “I am with you and I will never forsake you.” Perhaps these children can hear the gospel one day and understand in a unique way because their parents showed them a small picture of God in their early days. And we have the same opportunity for the children from difficult places.
The children who have come to us are asking us to show them a God who will never forsake them. They need this, not just in words, but in our healthy touch, our immediate arrival upon cries, our endless amount of reminders of our love for them, our willingness to start over no matter how many tantrums or time they take from us.
Whether their experience was fearful neglect, horrific abuse, or anything in between, the effects on these children is clear. Life for them had to be an “all about me” perspective. When you see your caregivers on auto-pilot most of the time, then yes, it had to be “how to take care of me”.
Now they are in your home. You know they have been brought to safety, but they don’t know that yet. As you teach them to not take their anger out on your children, or break the T.V, remember they are in an immense need of healing that is beyond a few lectures or consistent time-outs. You’ve been called into redeeming work. Your child does not know they are made in the image of a good and faithful God, who saw them in their need. They do not know about the joy of being God’s workmanship; that our hands, and words and feet have purpose that they haven’t ever imagined before. Ellie Holcomb, one of my favorite artists, sings a beautiful line that makes me think of the hope I have for my children, “I need a rescue, I need a reckoning, from all the things I’ve done and have been done to me.” And the cross is that rescue and reckoning for what have been done to these little image bearers.
I can see it in my son’s eyes sometimes when we talk about God creating us, he has some pain there that he still does not understand or cannot communicate. We, perhaps, have a journey to walk with him still as he considers what it means to be an image bearer when he was knitted into a womb that he wouldn’t stay forever connected with. Thanks be to God, he has a rescuer and one who has, at the cross, reckoned what’s been done, and that rescuer is also his true Father who will never leave him or forsake him.
I will be spending some more weeks on this topic as I’m smack dab in the middle of crying out for wisdom for my children; how to love them and how to be tool used by God for healing when there’s also my sin that is so evident. If you’re walking through this like me, I hope you feel encouraged that you are not alone!