I LOVE HER... I LOVE HER NOT

...I LOVE HER!


   
Our first adoption was dreamy… literally!  It was a dream come true for me that had been tucked deep in my heart for more years than I could remember!  She was just an adorable baby and she wanted one thing…. LOVE.  I was happy to oblige.  It was easy!   She smiled and cooed and slept through the night from our first night together.  We didn’t even hear the sound of her crying until we had been together over 48 hours.   I was just convinced that she was perfect, since she exceeded every hope and expectation I had from my adoption dreams.  My emotions exploded with all the affections I thought only birth mommy's knew!!!  I simply couldn’t understand any adoptive mother who said they struggled to actually “love” their new child… Not me! 

A year and a half later we returned for #2.  Why wouldn’t we?  I had this adoptive “love” thing down pat!  As soon as they handed over my 22 month old daughter, the bubble I had been living in burst- splashing through my emotions like a tidal wave. 


  
She didn’t like me.  She actually couldn’t stand my presence.  When I entered the room, she cried.  If Daddy left the room, she cried.  She cried, then she cried, then she cried some more.  By the end of one day together I felt physically ill.  I wanted more than anything to go into the hotel bathroom and barf my brains out….  Where was that instant “love” button, and who forgot to turn it on? 



The first day multiplied by 7 and each and every single night I went into the bathroom, grabbed the thickest towel or bathmat I could find and I sobbed into it!  This wasn’t a continuation of the dream I had hoped it would be!  What if she never loved me as her Mommy?  What if my emotions wouldn't cooperate either?  This felt more like a nightmare than a dream!  I wondered, as I buried my head into that bathmat for the 7th night in a row, if these very emotions were what drove adoptive parents to walk away…  I finally understood, or at least I thought I did.  Instead of extending compassion for the trauma she was experiencing, I was repelled by her misery, and completely entangled in my own selfish desires for that “loving” feeling. 



Then it happened!  It was Day 8…. She smiled at me… then reached for me from Daddy’s arms… then allowed me to rock her to sleep.  Ahhhhhh…. That was more like it!  Maybe affection could grow here after all, and it did!  No, attachment with #2 wasn’t instant- but it came with time and before long my emotional affections grew to what I could safely call “love”.  The overwhelming guilt for the lack of emotions I earnestly desired slowly subsided, but I will not soon forget the way that guilt paralyzed me for so long...



That was 9 years ago.  If you had told me shortly after that difficult adoption journey and the days that followed, that I would return not only one, or two, but three more times for another child to love, I wouldn’t have believed you!  I had been awakened to my brokenness just enough to know that the fairy tale version of adoption is a rare gift and probably not God’s idea, which is actually intended to break me of my selfish notions and motives.  He had much to teach me about love, and it appears He is not yet done with this life-changing lesson.

So far, I’ve learned a few things that I think might help my fellow adopting Mama’s.  I’m writing to share those with you.  I’m certain there is plenty more for me to learn and I leave in a few short weeks for #5 and another time of intensive training in China.  I imagine I might have a new list of tips to add to this one in the coming months, but for now I think I have plenty to write for a single post!

#1 is most important and until I figured this one out- I was bailing water from a sinking ship.  Here it is!  Write it down.  Repeat it over and over.  Then repeat it again… 

LOVE IS NOT AN EMOTION! 

I know that goes against everything you’ve ever thought or allowed yourself to believe.  But what you’ve bought into is the English version of “love” and it has led us all down a trail of emotional destruction.   You don’t have to look far to know it’s true.  Start counting the failing marriages around you and you’ll see the effects of our version of “love”.  You won’t be hard pressed to find those walking out of divorce court saying things like “We just don’t love each other anymore!"...  What had happened since they professed their undying love to one another?  

But the destruction doesn’t end there!  When applied to an adoptive Mama’s heart- it literally has the power to destroy us.  Even biological mothers fight this battle- but you will rarely hear them admit it, because… well… her children are her flesh and blood and she’s supposed to love them, right? 

I just wish we could start over with a clean slate and call it what it is!  The thing we are longing to feel as spouses, and as mothers (whether biological or adoptive) is AFFECTION.  We want to feel a deep affection FOR our children and FROM them!  Developing a mutual affection with your newborn baby isn’t too difficult.  You smile- they smile back- you tickle them- they giggle.  It is not until they fail to meet your expectations that your affections are challenged.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about- go find the mom of a child ravaging their way through the terrible twos and they will tell you that their affections are challenged on a daily basis.  And how many mother’s of teenagers wouldn’t admit that there are plenty of days that they “love” their child, but they certainly don’t “like” them.   

But affectionate feelings surrounding the adoption of a child you do not know and who does not know you can be a difficult process at best!  Adopting an older child who already has attitudes and habits very much unlike your own can start your journey on an emotional tank below empty that can take months or even years to fill!  The sooner we decide that this is OK (and even to be expected), the better!


Instant affection is more appropriately known as infatuation and is only a product of adoption when your new child is able to push all of your feel good, expectation buttons!  True affection with a photo or an idea is impossible.  It is, instead, something that grows with time as each individual involved gives and takes and their emotions bounce off of one another. 

The truth is that the emotion we call “love” ebbs and flows in each and every relationship.  My marriage and friendships saw difficult days before I finally figured this out!  Now I run the other way when I see the ever popular sign that instructs me to “Follow my heart”!  If I did so- I’d be in trouble more times than I am not! 

This talk of our emotions leads directly to everything I have to say on Tip #2 and this one is almost as revolutionary as #1- at least it was for me!  Here it is!...  Drum roll, please!...  Nowhere in Scripture will you find the command to control your emotions!  Did you hear that???

GOD DOES NOT TELL US TO CONTROL OUR EMOTIONS!

That means that all of the guilt we adoptive moms wrap around ourselves and tie in knots because of our negative emotions or lack of positive ones (like “love”) is of our own making…. Certainly not God’s!  In days past I accused myself of being a terrible person and one that The Lord could never accept because I lacked the emotion of love I was certain He demanded of me!  What I couldn’t wrap my heart around (and I guess no one ever told me!) is that His demands to love in Scripture have absolutely nothing to do with my emotions!!!!!!

God’s Word, instead, calls us to CONTROL OUR THOUGHTS!

Take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.   (2 Cor 10:5)

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things. (Philippians 4:8)

Why is God so interested in the controlling of our thoughts?  Because no matter how you slice it or dice it- our emotions will always follow our thoughts!  Tell me what you’re thinking and I can tell you how you “feel” instantly!  Emotions are like the caboose on the back of a train.  The engine of your thoughts will direct them down whichever track you choose and they have absolutely no choice but to follow!  Apply this wherever you like and see if it is not true!

If you rehearse in your mind for the rest of today all of the things you do not like about your husband, and the ways he has disappointed you in the past, I promise that your affectionate emotions for him will be pretty low when he walks through the door tonight.  Conversely, you can remind yourself exactly what made you want to marry him and the parts of him that you are crazy about throughout your day and you’d better find a babysitter to watch the kids when he gets home….  (I think you get the idea!)

This exact principle applies to our children, but I’ve decided this might be the hardest place to apply it!  We have been dealing with many orphan issues lately and deep pain disguised in irritating behaviors with one of our girls.  My affection meter has been falling as a result.  If I’m not careful, these irritating behaviors can take over my thoughts throughout the day and my emotions  toward that particular child are in the tank.  My emotions have a way of leaking out in my actions, spilling negativity over the very child that needs my affection the most!  Cap it off with overwhelming guilt and I’m sunk! 

When I find myself in that all too familiar pit, it’s time to return to God’s Word where His words give me clear instruction in how to climb out!  “Take every thought captive for the obedience of Christ.”  Take your thoughts captive- stop them at the front door- and confront them with the Truth!  When I do this, I find that my emotions of affection for even my most difficult child CAN grow!  Compassionate thoughts in remembering their trauma can change the way I see their behavior and possibly even change mine!  Sweet thoughts of their strengths (because we all have at least some of those!) enable me to greet them with a smile and encouragement, instead of rejection.  The best thing I can do with those positive thoughts are to actually say them out loud to my child and watch them transform not only my emotions but theirs too!!!! 

The Bible says that self control is a virtue and a fruit of God’s Spirit in us.  In light of my daily struggles in this area, I have come to believe that our greatest need for self-control begins in our THOUGHTS!  I am convinced that if we fill our thoughts with what the Bible says is true and apply these truth-filled thoughts to the people we have been called to “love”, everything about our emotions can change!  My bet is that God is highly interested in helping us do this, and will if we allow Him to!

Because I am a lover of Jesus and look to the Bible as my ultimate source of truth, my opinion is meaningless if it does not agree with His Word!  So recently, when I was to speak to a group of women on the subject of love, I did in depth research on the matter.  Thankfully, I walked away with the absolute confidence that my recent, rather new understanding on the subject of love is spot-on when lined up with God’s Word. 

In Greek, the English word “LOVE” is expressed in three different ways to include a love between friends, between lovers, and between God and man.  But in Hebrew the word “LOVE” is actually CHARITY.  This discovery changed everything for me!  I can remember reading the King James Version of the Bible growing up and finding confusion when the word CHARITY was used in place of LOVE in 1 Corinthians 13~  “Charity is patient, Charity is kind.  It is not proud.  It is not rude. It is not self seeking…  Now these three remain- Faith, Hope and Charity and the greatest of these is Charity."   What in the world did that mean?  I wish that I had taken the time to find out.  I could have saved myself a lot of self condemnation and overwhelming guilt if I had!

Let your mind come up with every definition it can find for the word charity and you will likely not find anything that resembles the emotional affection we call “love”!  Why?  Because charity is about helping the helpless.  It is about sacrificially giving yourself away for the good of others. It is about meeting needs and about acting in kindness.  And if you haven’t noticed by now- none of those words are nouns!  Each and every one- giving/meeting needs/acting – are verbs!  Charity is an ACTION.  Love is an action or it is nothing at all!  To profess an emotion of love devoid of action is meaningless!  Feel love all you want, but unless it overflows into an action, it profits no one.  Which leads to my final thought on the matter:

LOVE IS AN ACTION!

If this is true- and I think we can all probably agree that it is- then it’s time for us to stop beating ourselves up and making ourselves miserable with defeat for any lack of “love” we have for our children that we accuse ourselves of!  Let’s face the facts and throw the weight off our backs!  Affectionate feelings are easier with some than others.  Most of those feelings of affection have more to do with our own needs and expectations being met than the good of another.  If our affection is met with their affection than it is the warm, mushy feeling we call “love”.  Enjoy that feeling!  Mutual affection is a sweet gift that is to be enjoyed!  But stop expecting that you must be in gross sin if that affectionate feeling does not flow as freely with some of your more difficult children than with others.  We would probably all do ourselves a favor to lower our expectations a little bit (OK…. A LOT!) and create moments where affection can be fostered and grow.  But it’s time to stop filling our thoughts and mouths with the words… “I don’t love her/him!”  Excuse me…. I would beg to differ with you!  Did you not sacrifice much to make that child your own?  (Charity)  Did you push selfish ambition aside in countless ways so that child could know a mother’s love?  (Charity) Do you feed them, bathe them, clothe them, and tuck them into a warm bed at night?  (Charity)  Do you seek therapy and counsel to help them navigate through their trauma and stay up late into the night while they rage from the pain inflicted upon them by someone else?  (Charity) 

I am not afraid to go so far as to say that when you love (charity) a child devoid of the affectionate feelings you wish you had, God is even more pleased with your offering, then when you do it out of a response to your “loving” feelings!  It is easy to pour ourselves out when positive emotions flow.  But to do so in spite of the lack of them is a greater act of LOVE no matter how you look at it!  Does God want you to have a sweet affection for the child who now shares your name?  Of course He does!  And our prayers should be filled with petitions that He would mold our affections to be more like His.  But if you have loved your child with biblical love today (charity), then you can lay your head on your pillow tonight and sleep, guilt free, under His care regardless of what your fickle emotions tell you about yourself!  His mercies will be new when you wake up tomorrow and you can begin again to offer yourself in love (charity) to your child. 

I have been in the adoption community long enough to know that adoptions can fail and will.  Sometimes disruption is the best option for everyone involved.  But if you are among the many mom’s I know that feel that your adoption is a failure based solely upon your lack of warm affection for your child, it’s time to do what Elsa suggests and “Let it go!”  Your adoption might not look like you had hoped and many days of difficult emotions might still lie ahead.  But resist the urge to measure your success as a mom with an emotional barometer that simply can’t be trusted! Forgive yourself for the emotional feelings that come and go with the circumstances of life and decide, instead, to respond to God’s call to take your negative thoughts captive- replace them with His truth- and then let them overflow in your ACTIONS of LOVE!

I love her… I love her not… I LOVE HER!






PS~ While precious adoptive daughter #2 agreed to all the sad pictures we selected for this particular post, she wanted everyone to know that she now, in fact, "loves" us as much as we LOVE her!  Here's the perfect photos she picked to prove it! Affection overflows!




3 comments:

  1. Amen and Amen, Lori! So well written. Should be required reading for all parents. Thank you and prayers for you and yours!

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  2. Thank you Lori! What a blessing and realization that my continual, selfless actions are "love". Again, thank you! Blessings on your upcoming journey.

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  3. Amen! Ditto Melissa - this should be required reading for any adoptive parent. Knowing this scenario would not have stopped me from adopting my daughter. However it would have helped me spend less time wallowing in the guilt of being head over heels in love with my son and at the same time feeling like nothing more than a custodial guardian of my daughter. Behavior wise my daughter is pretty much perfect in every way - my son...typical messy, noisy, mischevious, push my buttons little boy. She is wayyy easier to parent than my son from that perspective. So that even more made me feel like a big piece of crap for not being able to congure up authentic affection and adoration for her. I felt like she was being completely short-changed by having a mother that was merely choosing to show her affection and encouragement and not having a mother that involuntarily gushed love and affection for her uncontrollable...kind of like i feel with my bio son. He is like a drug to me (as far as "Feelings" go) and I miss him the minute I leave him. If I am being honest I have never missed her while away - and that is in no way linked to her behavior or personality. She is magical, creative, loving, generous, a wonderful sister...she should be missed!!! And that makes me feel like crap on the inside. She deserves to be missed. When we decided to adopt her it was a clear direction from God to our family. We were not even considering adoption and when she was put in front of us - it was almost too clear. My past experience and her SN - it was just a very clear answer to a "why God?" that I had been asking for many many years. Well he answered - and he doesn't mince words...at least not with me. She needed a family right then and there - and it was us - done deal. If I personally was doing the "picking" out of my own desire, I would have chosen a little boy over a girl a thousand times over. I am just that kind of mamma....I get boy stuff, the girl stuff is not my gig, it is a forced effort, but frogs, boogers, poop, farts, and muddy baseball cleats - no problem! Give me a herd of boys all day long! She was a God thing for our family - not a "we are going to pick out a kid - that one is cute - lets pick her" kind of thing. She has a purpose and God entrusted us to care for her and give her everything she needs to fulfill that purpose. Understanding and re-convincing myself on a weekly basis that Love is a Choice and an Action helps me get through the guilt. But I still have days when I feel like she deserves better. However, she IS missed when she is away...my son is miserable when she is gone from him for very long. Their bond is unbelievable! They play together and share with each other and take each other into consideration every moment...so on days when I am having a hard time I choose to look at all my pictures of them together or go eaves drop on them while they play together and listen to their hysterical conversations - I realized that I need to let go of thinking I "as THE mom" needed to be the end-all be-all when it comes to her source of love and affection. Her brother definitely gives that and gets it back in a very real and authentic way all day every day. There are many things that she needs from this mamma...and she gets them and always will but God is really good at his job...he makes sure that her cup runneth over, even if I am not the one doing all of the filling of the cup.

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