Can We Accept a Different Family Picture From the One We Imagined?

December 2012
December 2012

I wrote this post during my visit with Hannah in September. I wasn’t quite brave enough to publish it then, but it still speaks to me, so here it is, three months later.

Friday morning began with Hannah leaving early for the hospital. I got up and chatted with her while she got ready, hearing a little bit about a surgery she would be doing later that day. Then I crawled back in bed hoping I might be able to sleep a little more, since my body was still on Pacific time.

When I woke again, I found a text from Dorothy who asked if I wanted to go for a walk – which I did, but I needed coffee, serious coffee. She arrived 15 minutes later with coffee and muffins, and a conversation began that lasted nearly three hours. We never made it out the door for a walk, but we managed to fill every moment with dialogue punctuated with phrases like, “I know just what you mean!”

We talked about our kids, adoption, disabilities, marriage, churches and so many things that even my head was spinning. One topic we settled on for awhile is the fact that adoption doesn’t always look the way we imagine it will. We have a dream, an image in our minds, of what our families are going to look like once we get our children home. But what do we do when no matter how hard we try, we can’t hold that image together – when we find ourselves with a family picture that doesn’t include every member of the family?

Can we accept that? Can we accept that God is much bigger than our plans, hopes, and dreams? Can we surrender ourselves to the plan He has and let go of our own? Can we endure the shame and gossip when everything appears to be falling apart, and yet we know that it is actually being held together by the hands of the living God?

So often we are scared or tempted to feel shame, but we need to love our children enough to journey with them, not controlling every single move, but letting God’s story of redemption and healing unfold.

Can we, in the adoption community, love each other enough to refuse to judge our fellow adoptive parents? We may have to extend love and support, knowing that we are unlikely to ever be privy to the full story of the challenges they’ve faced. There are some circumstances that are so painful, or so private, that in order to protect people, the details can’t be shared.

These are the questions I wrestled over with Dorothy and it was amazing. We only stopped talking long enough to sip coffee, or run to the bathroom, and then we prayed.

Let me ask you these questions too. What do you think? Can we accept this for ourselves – for others? If you need to sip some coffee or do something else – don’t worry, I’ll wait.

I hope to hear from you today.

Don’t forget to enter the giveaway for the Trust-Based Parenting DVD! It’s a fantastic resource.

Encourage one another,

Lisa

 

This post may contain Amazon Affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Let me introduce myself. Russ and I are the parents of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. I'm the creator of One Thankful Mom which has been as much of a gift to me as to my readers. In 2011 I became a TBRI® Pracitioner* and have lived and breathed connected parenting ever since. I'm deeply honored to be the co-author, together with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, of The Connected Parent; it is her final written work. I love speaking at events for adoptive and foster parents. I'm also the co-founder of The Adoption Connection, a podcast and resource site for adoptive moms. I mentor and encourage adoptive moms so you can find courage and hope in your journeys of loving your children well.

50 Comments

  1. Tricia Sayre
    December 9, 2013

    Thank you for writing this!! I've been wrestling with the questions you asked about God being bigger than all of our plans and hopes these last two years. Our 21 year old (my "step" son… although I've been 100% mom due to his birthmom's complete abandonment of him and his dad at 2 years old) has left our home several times in the 2 years when he doesn't want to take responsibility for his life and decisions. We had to ask him to live somewhere else when he refused our help and to live within the boundaries of respect and family life. He won't speak to us now and this is the second year in a row where he wouldn't come to our family picture session. We didn't send out Christmas card pictures last year because it was so embarrassing to not have him in the photo and I was so afraid of what people would think. This year, we sent them out anyways. It's tough being bombarded with people's opinions about what you should/shouldn't do…. everyone thinks they could do it/could have done it better. You begin to think you really ARE the problem in the equation! I think that's why I'm so drawn to your blog (initially it was because of adoption- we have 2 adopted children)… you get the pain of things not turning out how you expected it to, you're real about the struggle and uncertainty and the pain from others' judgments/assessments. Really wish we could see from God's vantage point how this all looks because from where we sit, it often looks so bleak. Guess this is where real faith comes in! Praying that we can both see the "bigger picture" in our suffering. You are a blessing!!

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      December 9, 2013

      Tricia, thank you so much for encouraging me with your words. I really struggled with our Christmas card this year. I finally managed a collage-type picture – but couldn't face a letter. For this year, that is enough. I wish the opinions of others didn't matter to me – but alas, they do. I need to remember that there are very few opinions that really matter.

      Reply
  2. Angela Arnett Stone
    December 9, 2013

    I appreciate this truth you have shared. It is hard to accept when things don't turn out the way we hope, especially in cases like you mentioned. I mourn for our foster kids that have left our home. One set that I'll never see or hear of again. Another that lives just a few miles away now and I'll likely be able to have a relationship with but who I recognize don't need to see me for a long while so that they can most fully attach with their new parents. It can be heart breaking but I am able to find comfort in a loving Father in Heaven. And my husband. And good friends. There are all kinds of people we can walk these hard paths with and I am grateful for them.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      December 9, 2013

      Angela, I imagine those losses are very hard to bear – I'm thankful that you have Jesus and people who love you. What a blessing you are to the children you've served and love.

      Reply
  3. Dawn Flatness Wright
    December 9, 2013

    Very powerful words…….and yes we can, but it is finding others who are brave enough to accept us and can we accept ourselves……hard stuff!

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      December 9, 2013

      Very hard! Thanks for commenting, Dawn.

      Reply
  4. Traci
    December 9, 2013

    Our son is never going to make it home. I know it's not the same, but our adoption journey didn't turn out like we thought it would. We still struggle with God's plan, our plan and what happens next. I am so thankful that God has given us other families to walk this journey together.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      December 9, 2013

      Traci, I'm so glad you have support from other families. This is such hard stuff…we don't know what the future holds for our family either. We're just walking the path as well as we can, not knowing what the end will look like.

      Reply
  5. Bev
    December 9, 2013

    This is where so many families are, including my own. Our Christmas with adult children does not look at all the way I imagined it would look when we began this journey. But things are changing. Last night we were together (those of us who were available) and conversations happened that could not have happened before now. I was blessed.

    Advent has had so much meaning for me this year…tears have been close to the surface. When Mary said her 'yes' to the angel, she did not know what it would look like. She had some ideas already from the start that pregnancy and birth would be difficult to explain to Joseph and her community. She did not know so many other things that later she pondered in her heart.

    Joseph also struggled initially, and then embraced the plan, still not knowing all that the plan would involve. How could anything be less than wonderful if you are chosen to live with the son of God in your home? Isn't this a 'yes' that comes with no hard parts?

    But this is a fallen world, and if Jesus said yes to suffering for a kingdom that is worth it, we can expect no less.

    Our picture looks different than we imagined. Mary and Joseph maybe imagined a picture with a triumphant Messiah and royal grandchildren. Maybe they were wiser than that.

    At any rate, the things you wrote are truth.

    "So often we are scared or tempted to feel shame, but we need to love our children enough to journey with them, not controlling every single move, but letting God’s story of redemption and healing unfold."

    God's story is better than what we imagined. That is my hope, and that is my prayer. And I love this sentence you put in:

    "We only stopped talking long enough to sip coffee, or run to the bathroom, and then we prayed."

    This is the holy moment, the moment of community of faith joined with surrender to God. Thank you so much for sharing these thoughts.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      December 9, 2013

      Bev, I need to have coffee with you and soak up some of your calm wisdom. Thank you.

      Reply
      1. Bev
        December 9, 2013

        I would so love that! If ever you are in Kansas…

        Reply
  6. sleepyknitter
    December 9, 2013

    Yah. I have an acquaintance who is in such a very difficult situation right now that it appears his adopted child's only hope of finding significant, ongoing help for his overwhelming mental needs is to be placed in the foster care system and consequently into government-funded, government-tracked mental health care. Do we in the adoption community have heart to support that family? This is a good, loving family who has previously adopted in the special needs world, but this particular child is diagnosed with problems that would make mental health professionals nervous, let alone a family that was anticipating a very different child than the one who arrived. Can we support this family if they do "the unthinkable" and place him in the foster care system in order to find help for him? Doctors say he cannot return to their home. Will other adoptive parents be kind to this family?

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      December 9, 2013

      I have friends in a similar situation – heartbreaking.

      Reply
  7. Holly
    December 9, 2013

    This is exactly what my family is going through. Looking up to God and walking the path He has for us. Even though its so different, painful, and not at all what we had planned when, we had a adopted. Thanks for posting this.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      December 9, 2013

      You are very welcome, Holly. Thank you for your comment.

      Reply
  8. Kathy
    December 9, 2013

    Whew! This was a biggie for me. God finally showed me it was my pride. Ouch! Didn't like hearing that. We set ourselves up for disappointment when we set our own expectations instead of allowing God to complete the work He started. For me, it was a process. I am ashamed of what I once thought about disrupted adoptions. It took me being on the brink of my own to learn to not "cast the first stone." I'm not proud of that, but glad God opened my eyes to see. Grace! We can only do this through His amazing Grace!

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      December 9, 2013

      I hear you, Kathy. I honestly thought I was not a prideful person…until the Lord painfully peeled back the layers of my heart. Pride does not make us better parents or more loving people, that's for certain.

      Reply
  9. Barb
    December 9, 2013

    Wow. So good. We adopted a little girl from Guatemala almost 5 years ago. We knew she had cerebral palsy. What we didn't know and information that was purposely kept from us was that she was mentally handicapped. To be honest, the mental disability is much more difficult than the physical. We have struggled with resentment and anger, but in the end, we realize that our little girl needed a home and had we been privy to this information, we would not have adopted her. It is a difficult journey and a very painful one. But we are learning to rely on God's sufficiency for each day. And we have learned a lesson… we do not have a clue what other families are going through, so we'd best not judge them. Thank you, Lisa.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      December 9, 2013

      Thank you for sharing your story, Barb. I so agree about not judging; I'm ashamed that even when I considered myself non-judgmental, in all honesty, I still was judging others. We need to cover one another with grace.

      Reply
  10. Laine
    December 9, 2013

    Thank you for this post. One of our children is "lost" to us right now. Your words help remind me to breathe deeply and remember she may be lost to us right now, but she is never lost to God. I never would have envisioned the way things are for her right now. Although it has been a painful journey to letting go of what my dreams for her had been, it has been a refining process as I have learned to reach for Heaven's mercies and finding peace in trusting God's plan for our family.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      December 9, 2013

      Laine, thank you for these words, "I have learned to reach for Heaven's mercies…" What a beautiful image. I'm sorry for the loss – I think I can understand. I am praying for you this very moment.

      Reply
      1. Laine
        December 9, 2013

        Thank you for your kindness in replying and for taking the time to read everyone's comments in spite of all the challenges you face in your own life. Thank you for the prayers. That touches my heart and brings tears of gratitude. Your family has been in my prayers.

        Reply
  11. Courtney
    December 9, 2013

    and our children are home and will likely always be. but our family has never been the same, and feels like it never will, since the day they came home. sometimes i use that and spin it positively (because we all ARE different in better ways – in ways that He has grown us and taught us and challenged us to learn what love REALLY is). but it's also a hard thing. things used to be easy and relaxed and just GOOD. now every minute feels fake and forced and hard. we will keep keeping on, because what else is there to do? and we will keep looking to Him for our strength through it all. but the honest truth is that it's hard. and it feels like most people don't truly get how it feels. so it feels lonely.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      December 9, 2013

      That loneliness comes up again and again, Courtney. It's just so hard to explain our lives, especially when they don't see the behaviors we do. I'm so glad you blog – it's good for you and for your readers. Press on, friend.

      Reply
  12. Anon
    December 9, 2013

    Oh Lisa! I am so glad that you had the heart to publish these thoughts. I have often pondered this topic myself, with other adoptive mothers. The grief that we feel over our lost dreams is real. We often feel confused, wondering where WE went wrong? I think it is just at times like these that we have to remind ourselves, as you did, that God's thoughts are higher than ours. His ways are mysterious and yet wise beyond belief. I pray that we can all trust Him, remembering His love and His character, when all else seems dark and hopeless.
    "The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in sprit." Psalm 34:18

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      December 9, 2013

      I love that verse, thank you for sharing it. This is one of those things we tend to talk about in whispers, isn't it. We need to grieve the dream and embrace the life God has given us and the road he has placed us on with our children. Thanks so much for commenting.

      Reply
  13. Chris
    December 9, 2013

    I am so struggling with God's plan, compared to ours! it is soooooo not what I would ever ask for. Someone asked me at church yesterday if we had been praying some BIG prayers before all this turbulence hit. If these are answers to prayers, oh my, HE thinks more of me than I do, and I know I'm not doing it right, but yet, I see Glimmers of hope with some specific answers to prayers just recently, so maybe I am starting to adjust my lens to try to match God's view, instead of holding onto dreams and not letting go of MY plans.
    No one could have prepared me for this 2 years ago when we were getting ready to add 2 more girls…but that's a good thing, or I would not have gone thru with it!,
    Thanks again for a great topic , with lots to chew on!!

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      December 9, 2013

      I love that – adjusting your lens to match God's view. I think that is exactly what Dorothy and I were talking about. We had a plan, and His was different – higher, wiser, and more painful that we expected, but I'm trusting it is more glorious too.

      Reply
  14. Michelle
    December 9, 2013

    We found ourselves in March having a family picture and events that did not include our daughter. So thankful we are on the other side of that and just had family pictures that did include her.

    "There are some circumstances that are so painful, or so private, that in order to protect people, the details can’t be shared."

    Thankful for you Lisa. I have wrote countless responses to your blog and rarely share because of this statement. Definitely hard though. The loneliness in this journey is like nothing I can explain. The "dreams" of what it would look like and having the exact opposite occur is more painful that I could ever explain. BUT experiencing God in this way is something I would not change. He has met me in those dark places and shown me His love isn't plastic (Sara Hagerty blog).

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      December 9, 2013

      I'm so glad you commented, Michelle. I'm so glad you got some pictures that include your daughter. For the first time in 26 years, I did a collage Christmas card because we weren't able to do a complete family photo. I was tempted not to do one at all – but gave it some thought and prayer. I have a blog post coming about that 🙂 I hear you about the loneliness, I hope you have at least one close adoptive mom friend who is supporting you, if only from a distance. Blessings.

      Reply
      1. Michelle
        December 10, 2013

        So hard Lisa but love your surrender in doing the collage. You are a virtual gift to me. One day…coffee in McCall! 🙂 Prayers for you all this season.

        Reply
        1. Lisa Qualls
          December 10, 2013

          Definitely coffee in McCall! I told myself when I made the collage – "It's enough. It's not what I want, but it is enough."

          Reply
  15. Carrie
    December 9, 2013

    I came across your blog in the midst of our most recent, and most serious struggles with our adopted son. While he should be coming home from treatment very soon, we realize that it isn't a quick-fix, but just another step, another piece in the puzzle of finding out how to help him heal. We have been blessed by a TBRI therapist and mom's support group. I don't know what I would have done without the accepting, understanding, non-judgmental love we have received in this storm from all of them. Naming the shame to rob it of its power has been HUGE for me. Many outside of our close knit core throw words like "amazing parents" "such blessings" and "real-life saints" around and the Enemy knows the turmoil they create in my mind. I am none of those things. I am broken- not as broken as my son, but struggling to keep trusting and keep hoping in my Savior… even though I can't see the outcome.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      December 9, 2013

      Carrie, I'm so glad you found my blog. There are many wonderful moms (and dads) here who are full of wisdom. I agree with "naming the shame" and the invaluable support of fellow parents who really "get it." Thanks for your comment.

      Reply
  16. Mary (Owlhaven)
    December 9, 2013

    So very hard. I've definitely seen from many other adoptive mommas (and learned myself) that our job as moms is not always to mother our children in the way that we first envisioned. Such a faith journey…

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      December 9, 2013

      Absolutely, Mary, a huge faith journey and so much painful growth that has to happen.

      Reply
  17. amy
    December 9, 2013

    "Can we accept that God is much bigger than our plans, hopes, and dreams? Can we surrender ourselves to the plan He has and let go of our own?" So true, so all encompassing, so HARD. And you know what, sometimes I just don't want to, I don't want to give my dream, I don't want to trust God, and I don't want to let go. God grant us the ability to let go, to trust, to give in to you.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      December 9, 2013

      I hear you, Amy. I struggle with my expectations, my pride, so many things….

      Reply
  18. Lisa H.
    December 9, 2013

    I have SO, SO many thoughts related to this post, I can't write them all….and I keep trying! For now, THANK YOU for writing! You do a great job at expressing what so many of us are experiencing and it is at least one comfort that there are places like One Thankful Mom where we can have some sense of community and understanding! Love to you!

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      December 9, 2013

      Love to you too, Lisa. I've been following along with your new adoption journey on FB. Very exciting.

      Reply
  19. danae
    December 9, 2013

    I got just as much from the comments as I did from the post. Thank you to all. These were all words I needed to hear.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      December 9, 2013

      Me too, Danae! I love my readers – so much wisdom and kindness.

      Reply
  20. Jen
    December 9, 2013

    Our adopted kids are still young enough that we are trying to keep everyone safe and praying that we will come out the other side intact, but I know that is not always the case and accept that God will guide us one way or the other if other options become necessary. I wanted to remind everyone that sometimes it is a biological child who is the one who is walking apart from the family circle. Once our children reach a certain age, their choices become just that, theirs. We are at the stage of praying for one of our sons and hoping that someday he will come back into the bosom of our family.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      December 9, 2013

      Good words, Jen. I'm praying for you and your son right now.

      Reply
    2. Bev
      December 10, 2013

      You are right, and it is important to keep that reminder in the adoption community. I have several friends outside of adoption who struggle with family settings very different from the ones they dreamed of as well, and I'm glad that we can support each other. Praying for you.

      Reply
  21. Tricia
    December 9, 2013

    Thank you for having the courage to post this. Brokenness, dreams shattered, yet being confident that God is sustaining you and seeing His hand in all of the details…. We have NO doubt we brought home the exact child God planned for us – we FOUGHT for him to the ends of the earth… The best therapists, Drs, intensive therapy, prayer…. and yet I'm confident, somehow beyond our dreams and understanding, that the only way for him to find space to heal is with a new family – that our role in this child's life was for God's purpose and not our own. Our family knows brokenness like we never would've imagined when we started this journey, each of us have feared for our lives and lived out a choice we didn't even know was possible… and we are confident we've been obedient to God. "There are some circumstances that are so painful, or so private, that in order to protect people, the details can’t be shared." And yet I'm grateful that we know brokenness because it's made us more real, aware, able to educate, and approachable to others in need. We try hard not to judge because of this. Our church and most of the adoptive community didn't know what to do with us. While there are moments of shame that can creep in, and sadness at dreams having fallen apart and friends abandoning us, as you write, "we are held together by the hands of the living God!"… Conversations with Dorothy are a gift. I prayed for your visit here and am so glad to read of your blessed time together. Continuing to pray for your family on this journey.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      December 10, 2013

      Tricia, thank you for your boldness, your faith, your words. To hear you say this – "our role in this child's life was for God's purpose and not our own" is exactly what I find myself thinking in these situations. We have a dream – God has a better one, even if it looks like a mess to us. Blessings to you. Thank you for your prayers.

      Reply
  22. Mary
    December 11, 2013

    Thank you for posting it, Lisa. I was reading in Job this morning and what overwhelmed me was, The Anchor Holds! How do I find beauty in this world and work everyday to bring about beauty when I have a skewed view of what true beauty in God's eyes is? I don't know. But we have experienced the anchor holding even when we felt hopeless about our lives. We have experienced the anchor holding when we felt misunderstood or completely wiped out or when people said dumb stuff.

    When I think about my own thoughts and heart attitudes before foster care/adoption, all I can say is God has shown me a way of grace through this all. And he keeps showing it to me.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      December 11, 2013

      I love that phrase, "The Anchor Holds," so true, even when we are struggling to make sense of things. Thank you, Mary.

      Reply
  23. Kayla
    December 12, 2013

    This is so applicable to so many situations. In my case, two months after having a son come home via adoption, I found myself pregnant. Something that should be joyful. Something that others often long to have and can't. And something I really didn't think I wanted or needed. (We have 3 kids, ages 7, 6, and 3, all adopted because we believed that was how God wanted our family to look. I was perfectly fine not being pregnant.) Sharing any words about it seemed to trivialize the struggles of those who have had issues with infertility and seemed to minimize the blessing that is a new life. But yet, my heart was just not quite to a place of joy for quite awhile. I wasn't sure I wanted the "different" picture that God had in mind. And now? Now I have a 3 month old. A 3 month old who has forced me to become a different mom than the one I was. A 3 month old who has given me a lot of new experiences as a mom, some good and some bad. (Can you say months and months of constant nausea? A birth experience that literally included just about every facet of labor and deliver including an epidural, an epidural that ran out while at ten centimeters, an emergency C-section, and a trip to the NICU for my baby. A breastfeeding experience that did not work. Coming home and feeling a lot of anxiety about my ability to parent, something I had never really experienced before, so much so that my doctor quickly asked me about happy pills. Having a house full of noise and chaos and constant motion. Watching this little guy change and learn new things. Being the most important person in his life in an instant way that I did not get to experience with my adopted kids. Watching my husband with a baby. Watching my big kids adore the baby. Having others step in and fill the gap for us, from a baby shower to meal upon meal when we got home.) I guess what it has made me realize is how that "different picture" is one where God is so in the middle of it. Maybe because when it is different than what we anticipated, it is only because of Him that we manage life instead of clinging onto this idea that we can do a pretty good job by ourselves? Maybe because when it is different than what we anticipated and stressful, that it causes us to intensely scrutinize what is most important to us? Maybe, if for nothing else, because our "different" pictures give us a better ability to empathize with others, to really love and minister to them because we too know how painful it is when your pictures turns out "different." Believing that God is in the middle of your different picture, that while your different is painful and hard and not at all what you had envisioned, that He is there, behind you, before you, and at every turn you make.

    Reply

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