developmental psychology

Learning to Love the Ones from Hard Places

The evangelical adoption movement is maturing.

It started out all lollipops and roses.  Idealism and enthusiasm.  We  proclaimed in our churches that God has called His people to seek justice for the oppressed; to care for the widow and the fatherless.

Evangelicals jumped on the bandwagon of adoption, orphan care and other missional activities in record numbers. Whole movements were formed and churches adopted Orphan Care Ministries.

It was, and still is, the right thing to do. Except now,  the movement has a grown-up tone. We have been purified in the fire of the fellowship of suffering.  We’ve learned that the term sacrificial love comes with a capital S and that committing to giving unconditional love comes with one condition: Holy pain.

This shift shouted to me when I attended an adoption conference last month after having been away from any official gatherings for years. Ten years ago, break-out sessions would have been titled, “James: 1:27 God is Calling you to Adopt” or “How to Start An Adoption Ministry in Your Church.”

Last month, the conference program featured 41 break-out sessions and 23 of them had to do with problems with attachment or behavior in some form.  Examples of titles were, “Creating a Healing Home”, “Understanding Trauma Effects on Children”,  and my favorite, “When the Brady Bunch Adopts Bart Simpson.”

The keynote speaker, Dr. Karen Purvis, a developmental psychologist and one of the foremost experts on attachment and trauma, outlined the physical effects of trauma and loss on the brain and a child’s development. She talked about the missing neural connections in the brain, the imbalance of neuro-chemicals present in kids from hard places and the fact that scientists can now actually observe the fraying of DNA in these kids.

My husband and I have adopted nine kids from hard places.  We haven’t experienced the more  debilitating situations that some adoptive families have experienced.  In the balance, our experience has been more on the side of triumphant grace-victories.  Yet as I sat listening to Purvis speak, I, an adoptive mom of nine who had experienced many of these things, Purvis’ words cut deeply.  And I wept.

I wept for all nine of mine from hard places.

I wept for the ones who were born with a cocktail of heroin, cocaine and alchohol in their little bodies.

For the ones who weren’t held or cuddled for the first year of life.

For the ones whose differences are on display for everyone to see every day and every minute  of their lives.

For the ones who didn’t have enough food in their formative years.

and for the ones who were taken from everything they had ever known to start over.

And I wept

about my lack of understanding when these kids from hard places make less than optimal choices.

And my impatience when they don’t always measure up to their peers.

And my anger when they act out and challenge my authority

and my exasperation when they hoard the food from the last huge grocery haul.

But there is good news.

Purvis said that scientists used to believe that if this physcial and emotional damage wasn’t addressed within the first three years of life,  it was permanent.  But they now know that it can be repaired and healed all the way through the adolescent years.  She offered many strategies for healing the damage.

And there is better news.

There is grace.

Grace for those of us who started out trying to love like wide-eyed little children but are learning to love like grown-ups with eyes wide open.




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