Glimmers of Joy and Signs of Hope

This was the final question asked in the Q&A. (More questions welcome.) My answer might digress from the original question a bit, but I hope it helps…

There are so many things that I feel so naive about concerning the situation with the abandoned children in China. There are so many children–it’s so hard to comprehend–and I’m not even seeing it first hand and I really only am piecing together a picture through photos and blogs I’ve read. It must be overwhelming to see all the precious, precious children and know there are so many that will never have a family of their own. I’m not even sure what to ask about this … because there are so many things to ask. How has your struggle with this changed for you both while you have been in China and what is the best way from your experience and perspective that we can help. (or books you’d suggest reading.)
Sometimes I feel like I don’t have the words to tell you what this is like. Part of the lack of blogging depth lately (at least it seems like there’s been very little depth to me) is because some of the things I’ve been thinking about lately defy description… I’m going to try my best. Bear with me.
She’s not even 21 days old. She’s one of the most beautiful babies I’ve ever seen. Fine porcelin features, flawless skin, and full lips. She’s tiny, and her little fingers look so fragile that I’m almost afraid to touch her. When I sit beside her crib watching her sleep, I find myself holding my breath. I don’t know why. I think it’s maybe because I want time to stand still for her, and somewhere inside of me, I hope that if I remain perfectly still, time will freeze.
I want time to freeze because right now she doesn’t know she is an orphan.
Maybe she does. Maybe she realizes that the voices she heard while in the womb for 9 months are no longer around her. Maybe when she is being held, she can feel the difference in cadence of the nanny’s chest gently rising and falling as she breaths… knowing it isn’t the same as the one she felt before birth.
But I like to imagine that right now, as she sleeps, she doesn’t know anything that has happened to her yet. She doesn’t know that sometime shortly after birth, she was abandonded because of spina bifida. She doesn’t know that she traveled a long distance to come to our foster home for surgery. She doesn’t know that those voices she heard for the months leading up to her birth will now be silent forever. I want to pretend that she knows none of this yet and that time will freeze so that she never has to know. So that she remains unbroken.
Because quickly she will grow into a 5-year-old girl. A 5-year-old who sat in my friend’s lap while she watched another child meeting her mom and dad for the first time. As everyone’s attention was focused on the formation of a new family, this little 5-year-old felt her own void deep in her soul. She told my friend that she can count to 10 in both English and Chinese, and reminded her that she knew all of her colors. With doubting eyes, she asked if she was pretty enough for a family.
And even if she is adopted, at some point in her journey she’ll be like another 5-year-old girl I know. Abandoned at 9 months and adopted at age 3, she cried herself to sleep the other night, asking to go back to China where her “real” mommy and daddy must be looking for her. She wanted to know why she was “taken away from them,” and shared with her mom that she knew they missed her and loved her and wanted her to come home. To consider the fact that she was intentionally abandonded is too painful; it is easier to imagine that there’s an unseen villain in the story.
A close friend of ours who was adopted himself and is an adoptive parent says that adoption is “a redemptive response to a tragedy.” I don’t think many adoptive parents want to go there mentally. They want to imagine that the child experiences adoption with the same joy, satisfaction, and excitement as they do as parents. While I know that each and every child wants a mother and a father, getting a new set of parents doesn’t replace the void left by the absence of the biological parents.
Jacob and I have been talking about this a lot lately… and we realize that coming here has changed our perspective on adoption pretty drastically. Since marrying, we’ve always known that most likely our family will at least partially be built by adoption. It is such a part of our lives. Both of my brothers are adopted and Jacob has an adopted sister. I worked in adoption for 3 years. For a while now, international adoption (especially) has been a trendy way to have a family. I’ve worked with families who wanted a “cute little China doll.” I confess that on some level, I even imagined that our family would be more desirable if we looked like the UN and not white America. We imagined that our adopted children would fit like a missing puzzle piece into our lives, and that we would all never look back.
But that was before we understood the depth of grief that comes from being abadonded. It isn’t something that adoptive parents can fix, and confronting that reality has changed the way we think about adoption. In some ways, we “want” it less — knowing how difficult it is to parent in general, not to mention parenting a child who has experienced such grief and loss. But in other ways, we know we “need” to do it even more. Not that we’ll be perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but we’ve been equipped for a reason. There was a time when I thought everyone should adopt. There is such a need, it seemed obvious to me that if we all stepped forward and did our part, we could solve the problem. But, now I’m a bit more cautious with that. I know there isn’t anything worse than growing up an orphan, but it isn’t ideal to grow up as an adopted child in a family that doesn’t take your grief and loss seriously; a family who imagines your story started the day they signed the adoption papers.
Adoption isn’t for the faint of heart. Responding to a tragedy requires one to enter into that tragedy, and that means opening your heart to a world of hurt. So, one way we’ve changed is that we’re a lot less lighthearted and carefree about adoption… It doesn’t mean we won’t adopt; it just means we’ll go into an adoption very differently than we would have 3 years ago.
As for the part of your question about the scores of children who will remain orphans… To be honest, it is too big of a problem for me to wrap my little brain around. Sometimes I cope by ignoring the reality. When I’m in a healthier place spiritually, I remember that it isn’t my burden to bear. God is the father to the fatherless, and He is the one who bears the weight of it all on His shoulders. I don’t have to try and carry it for him; it would crush me. (Check out this post for more on that.) Instead, we choose to see him in the midst of the suffering. He was already there, long before we arrived. We don’t carry him to orphans in our carry-on bags. So if he’s already there, you may wonder why we should go? Because when darkness, suffering, and abandonment are so loud, there’s a time and a place for us as believers to enter into the turmoil and shout His name above the screaming pain. He’s already there, but we can make His presence more obvious to the suffering when we become His hands and feet. We become instruments of His comfort and peace.
And, as we work alongside him, staking out his kingdom and territory on this earth and telling the darkness that it has no place here, we begin seeing Signs of Hope. Glimmers of joy that keep us going. Reminders that His Kingdom will fully come and healing and restoration will be made complete.
That’s how we cope.

17 thoughts on “Glimmers of Joy and Signs of Hope

  1. Wow! That was so powerful! Thank you for that wonderful reminder. I am glad that you are where you are right now. Glad that you are able to share love with these precious little ones. I pray for your hearts as you deal with all their grief. And I pray that when our little one comes home, we can help ease her grief a bit. I know that it won’t be easy, but, your reminder was perfect.


  2. What an important post. And, as the momma to a five-year-old who deeply grieves for her China mommy and her Abu (foster mother), I understand (as fully as I can as a second party) your friend’s comment that adoption is “a redemptive response to a tragedy.” Yes… yes it is.


  3. I totally agree that *we* as the adoptive parents cannot fill the hole left… But God…. I KNOW that He can fill the void, makes sense where it seems senseless, and mend little hearts that are broken from such tremendous loss.

    We openly discuss China, and our girls birthparents. We want to make those discussions as natural as possible. Honestly, at ages 3 and 5 they don’t seem to process their loss. They are more concerned about losing ME. My hope is that some day when they realize their loss, the openness we have established will foster open communication.

    We also add the most important part of the story as a Christian, and that is that God loves us and He has a plan for each of our lives. HIS plan for their lives was for them to be our daughters. We truly believe that it is not by chance that we were matched with these 2 precious treasures. As they grow in their knowledge of Him, I pray that they embrace His plan, including the tragedy of their loss.

    Thank you for your insightful post. As an adoptive parent, I love to hear the other side of the story.


  4. Wow Carrie…I'm not sure why you think that your posts have lacked in depth lately, as I have not felt that way in the least. And this post was proof that there is no lack!…that was powerful and insightful…thank you!

    As someone who was not raised by her biological father, I understand the void and wonder that lies restlessly inside the heart. Though I was blessed to meet my father at age 25 and am very grateful for the relationship we have now, it does not replace the void of not having him in my life for those first landmark years. Yet, I also understand that I am where I am today, because of the course my life traveled up to that point. I have an amazing husband that I likely wouldn't have met, had things been different. So I do believe that God has a bigger plan that we often can't see or comprehend as we're growing. But looking back, I'm grateful for all that He has done. I also appreciated Cristy's comment, as I think that open communication and speaking the Word into their lives is so important. My mom did that for me growing up, and it took root like nothing else.

    Very, very insightful post though. And I agree that adoption is a “redemptive response to a tragedy” …but it's still a very good response, and I know your experience on that side of the fence will prepare you to have a level of insight and depth that most of us cannot quite grasp in the same way. You will be an amazing parent when your time comes. God bless!! <><


  5. Sadly, no – not every family can effectively handle their grieving child. I have friends who have adopted and they totally blow off any notion of grief. They never link their child’s response or actions to the fact that he or she may be grieving the loss. It makes me so sad.

    My son grieves. It is not always obvious and maybe sometimes he is just being a preschooler. But I know he grieves. We are as open as we know how to be and pray that gives him some sense of comfort.

    I am so glad you have allowed your heart to break for the things that break God’s heart. I am thankful for the way He speaks through you.



  6. What a powerful post!! And such a real testimony and challenge to those families planning to adopt. You are so right, you have to be prepared to enter the tragedy in order to help bring healing to a broken spirit.

    We would like to adopt some day, but my hesitations do lie in most of what you shared. I’ve recently watched friends adopt a toddler with special needs and the grief has been very real, and difficult for them at times.

    But the Love of Christ Does penetrate the dark places and He is able to turn these children’s mourning into dancing!!

    Thank you for sharing your heart.


  7. No one should greive alone. No one should cry out in the night and remain alone. When I toddling Son fell down one day his new Daddy threw himself onto the ground beside him. He didn’t pull him up but he went to where he was. Our child looked over and instead of cring from the fall he laughed. He knows he’ll never fall alone again.
    That’s adoption to us to join the journey of a life already in progress and make it better in every way we can and be there when we can’t make it better. I’m adopted my husband’s father is adopted three of our four children are adopted. We are waiting to travel to bring home a four year old boy whose never known a day without drama trauma and loss. We don’t expect a china doll but we do expect the opportunity of a lifetime, to experience a child who will never exist again. Thanks for sharing your growing awareness and the view from your eyes Carrie.


  8. Thank you. When I try to explain my oldest’s transition into our house, I say that his public persona is the tip of his emotional iceberg. When folks balk at that, I’ll send them to this post.


  9. I read your blog daily but somehow missed this post – thank goodness the Tonggu Momma pointed it out today. I needed to hear this today.
    My daughter was 9 months when I adopted her – she’s 4-1/2 now, but still grieves for her first parents. It is NOT easy to witness her pain and have no idea how she feels.
    When her friends ask where her dad is (I’m a single parent) she says, “He lives in China with my China Mom.” She asks me what their names are and when I tell her I don’t know she says “That’s OK I’ll ask them when we meet them.”
    I knew bonding with her might be hard, I knew she may be behind and need occupational therapy, but NO ONE told me that that she would grieve her first parents for the rest of her life.
    Some nights as she falls asleep saying, “I miss my mommy and daddy in China” with tears in her eyes; I hold her tightly crying too wishing there was something I could do to ease her pain.


  10. I just came across your blog through your heartfelt post that was on Grown in my Heart. You are doing amazing work that I too hope to do someday. We have adopted 3 beautiful children from China — just the joys of our life. 2 of them had unrepaired special needs. Our latest adoption – a 4 1/2 year old girl just couldn’t be happier to have a family. She was very scared at first – but love wins. Now, just 3 months after coming home with us – she is so very happy. Our oldest daughter – who is 5 and whom we adopted at one – is smart and silly and beautiful. She knows she had a “China tummy mama”, but she doens’t have much interest in talking about her yet. She is also so happy and full of life. Someday, we will have bigger discussions, but so far our little ones are just content where they are at and don’t seem to worry about much else. We open doors for them sometimes – to acknowledge all that they have been through – but no one wants to venture back to that yet and that is okay. It is their story – and we will help them unfold it, if and when they want to. Adoption is beautiful. I would adopt 3 more from China if I could raise the money to do it. Don’t be sad or have fear about adoption – – it has been an amazing blessing to all of us and to the rest of our family.

    You are doing great work!!

    — In Christ — Gayle


  11. Carrie,

    What an amazing post!! Wow!

    This is so timely for me…for as our time to finally meet Sophie is drawing near, I’m filled with such excitement…but at the same time, I find my mind is increasingly filled with the ‘what ifs’. I’ve been praying to God specifically over this subject….that He equips me with what I need to help and handle the loss that Sophie will feel. Her life before us will always be part of her. It breaks my heart that she will AGAIN have to suffer another loss when she joins our family. I am SO THANKFUL though, that at New Day, I know Sophie is being ‘prepared’ as much as possible, and given ‘permission’ from those she is closest to, to attach and bond with her forever family. I remind myself that He has brought us this far, and that if we continue to rely on Him, He will continue to show us the way.

    I agree…without a doubt you both will be awesome parents when the time comes!

    Thanks for sharing your insightful, heartfelt posts!



  12. Carrie,
    One of the most poignant posts I have read on adoption in a long time. Many aparents don't understand trauma in a children and it is very real.

    My hope is that the children you love personally will find their families and grieve appropriately for the ones they lost.


  13. Wow. I just saw your comment on Jeanette's blog and came to find this post. You speak such words of truth. I get frustrated knowing other adoptive families who are refusing to acknowledge the gaping wound in their child, choosing to believe that they have their perfect little family. I know we are not perfect. And so far, we're still at a pretty low level of issues, but they're there. I'm reading and researching and trying to be proactive…and God's opening my eyes and heart to the trauma and the tragedy that will be in my daughter's heart forever. I cannot erase what's been done to her, or freeze time as you wish to. She's growing and will soon realize/remember that I am not her first mother. Lately, I think the grieving is leaking through the superficial reason that starts the crying…and it's heartwrenching.

    God is preparing you for your future family, though. And you will know enough to look for these things and address them and not sweep them under the rug. I, too, don't see adoption through the same lenses I did before June 29th of last year…and yet, I must go back. No matter the sacrifice and the pain.


  14. So many good things in this post!

    As a “biological mom” to 3, and an “adoptive mom” to one more, I understand, and feel, adoption from a few vantage points. And now, our family is moving to India to serve at Sarah's Covenant Homes and I believe even more vantage points will be uncovered. It is complex. It is beauty from tragedy and pain. And God can redeem it all!

    In the end, no matter how complex, no matter the hurt, I am honored to walk beside my daughter as she unwraps her life and addresses her vantage point in the multilayered life of adoption.



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