Warning: long post.
This weekend I spent four days and three nights in Atlanta, Georgia at the Created for Care retreat. It was such a kick for this pacific northwest girl to be in the south! Knowing that the first year home with an adopted child is usually pretty rough, a friend told me about this retreat for Christian adoptive moms. I didn't know if it would be possible for me to attend, but my kind husband took pity on this frazzled mommy and said we'd figure it out. My bro/sis-in-law gifted me with airline miles for the plane ticket, and I don't know if they had any idea at the time what an amazing gift it would be! I know I won't be able to make this an annual thing, but I desperately want to go back one more year. If you are considering going, I will say I think it would be the most beneficial the year before your child comes home and the first year or two after they are home.
I honestly cannot remember a time when I felt more FILLED. It's kind of a foreign feeling, b/c I've felt like I'm running on empty for a good 10 months. It would take 4 days to tell you all about it, but I promised a couple of my buds who couldn't go that I would take notes and tell you the highlights,so this is for you, C and J! I also want to process and record so I can remember why this weekend was so great for me.
*True retreat. The location was just beautiful...and no rain! The beds were comfy and the lodge was cozy. I think what really worked for me was that I was not in charge of anything or anyone! I love our own church retreat here at home, but I'm one of the ones in charge, so it's not exactly restful. This time I could wander in a little late after getting a latte or skip breakfast to get another hour of sleep if I so chose. I also knew a handful of friends coming, and wanted to touch base with each one, but I didn't know a LOT of people there, and so didn't feel obligated to be especially social. And did I mention? No little people needed me. Not even once was I asked for goldfish crackers or to wipe a bottom. Good thing....that would have been really awkward.
*The mamas. I know I just said I wasn't extra social, but the absolute best part about the weekend for me was connecting with other adoptive moms in all stages of the adoption process. It was an amazing sense of connection and freedom to be surrounded by people who can relate to what I'm going through on a deep level--even the things I don't like saying out loud. There were a handful of friends that I knew from online connections, my sweet cousin was there from Tennessee, and one friend in particular who adopted from T-land before me and has been a huge source of encouragement throughout our process. I roomed with her and her cousin, and it was that rare experience when you meet people and it just clicks. Kindred spirits. Which was convenient, since you're sharing beds and a bathroom. But every time I turned around--waiting for an elevator, sitting at lunch/dinner/breakfast, shopping the vendor tables, going through the snack line--I was able to hear another adoption story. Everyone had a nametag with the flag of their child's home country--it was a great conversation starter. OH MY WORD--the stories! You guys. I can't even begin to tell you. I'm crying just thinking of them. Every adoption story is beautiful and amazing and difficult and born out of loss. But I had no idea. I was humbled by the lengths some of these women went through to bring their children home from the ends of the earth. I bawled at the stories of pain, lack of attachment, trauma, death, illness...some of these mamas and their kiddos are still in the trenches. Deep, deep trenches, you guys. But many more had come out on the other side and were sharing stories of God's healing, redemption, restoration, faithfulness and daily sustenance. I have a special heart for hearing stories about families who seemed "full" to the world, but God whispered to those parents that their families were not complete. And I loved my sweet roomie and new bestie T, whose adoption/pregnancy path was like a novel with so many twists, leading them to four children, now ages 4,3,2 and 1--both homegrown and from around the world--the last 3 entering their family within about 10 months of each other. I loved that the world would look at the women in this room and their big, colorful families and think they are CRAZY! To be honest, I kinda thought some of them were crazy. Almost everyone I met who had already adopted was adopting again...some of these women were on kiddo #5,6 or 7!!!
*The worship. Oh, I can't even. The quality and the depth and heart of the worship and leader were just beyond expectation. I love that we were led by a woman, and her voice was blowing me away. Then I found out she was already on my ipod--Candi Pearson Shelton is her name and look her up right now on iTunes. Sing to the King is a well-known worship tune she led for Passion, and Restoration is Your Song will bring you to your knees. I spent my souvenir money buying her CD's. But what brought many, many tears was singing words like "Oh. How he loves us. Oh how HE LOVES US," and "You are peace when my fear is crippling" and "His love never fails, never gives up, never runs out on me" with all these women who are, as a body, seeking the Father's heart for ourselves and our children. It was complete surrender and complete empowerment in one.
*The information and insight. We had large group sessions and smaller breakout sessions. It pains me to try to pick a few notes to share, but I will try for you, CB. ;) One of the most thought-provoking speakers of the weekend was an adult adoptee. Her name is Carissa Woodwyk and you can check out her blog HERE. She is a great speaker and writer. She shared with us that, although adopted as an infant, her deep fear of rejection has never left her. She asked us to think hard about the words we use to talk to our adopted children, and the subtext of those words. For instance, when her parents said, "God's will was for you to be in our family," that was difficult for her, b/c it was hard for her to understand why God "wanted" for her to lose everything and for her birth mother to go through tremendous pain and loss. She said she just wanted to hear that it was God's will that she was born into this world, that her life was important, and that He desired and loved her. That maybe we could explain to our children that because this world is full of sin and pain and hurt, sometimes hard things happen--and that we believe that it must have grieved God's heart that our babies could not be raised by their birth parents. But because He is a God of restoration and redemption, it pleases him to place children without a family into a family.
Slightly more thought-provoking was that she encouraged us in the Christian world to have caution with how (and how often) we use the word orphan. She said she bristles at that word, because as a former orphan, she feels it implies that a child is helpless, vulnerable and needy. A victim in need of rescuing. She said that no orphan wants to be adopted as a rescue mission. They may be born into poverty and pain, they may be relinquished or lose family members, but they aren't needy and "less than," waiting for someone stronger to come and save them. They just want to be loved. As we all do. She cautioned us to examine our hearts and make sure that we are not attempting to play superhero in this adoption process, but that we are truly desiring to grow our families and our homes--committing to love and parent this child forever, no matter what. It possibly ruffled feathers, but I think it's always healthy to examine our motivation and how our syntax affects everyone in the adoption triad.
I attended a seminar on Connecting while Correcting that was so full of gems that I will just say this: go read The Connected Child by Karen Purvis. I know I'm going to again. The best nugget for me was this: you can have structure (discipline) but you HAVE to have an equal amount of nurture or you will see no progress in your child's behavior. Connecting has to come before correcting. I've come home with a strong determination to snuggle the crap out of this little man who does not like to hold still for longer than .4 seconds. You WILL be nurtured, child! Another soundbite is this: compassion does not have an expiration date. Just because your child has been home ________ months/years, does not mean that their adoption trauma is not still affecting them (and their behavior), and you cannot expect them to "get over it." So many of us go into this thinking that since we plan to love all our children equally, that we can parent them equally, and after this book/class, I am convinced again that is just not true.
Another great seminar I attended was about how to talk to your kids about their adoption. Much of the info I'd read before, but it was really good. I'm having the notes emailed to me, and can share them if you'd like. One really good note was for families who have not been matched yet. It was a reminder that in the excitement of the day when you get your child's file, remember not to share personal or private information about your child's birth story that you do not want them to hear from anyone else. It may not seem like a big deal at the time to tell Aunt Judy the sad details of your child's birth mother, but if Judy tells her husband and then 7 years later Uncle Doug accidentally shares the painful info with your kiddo at Thanksgiving dinner...that's a problem. It's best to keep the details to a bare minimum and just tell people you're keeping the child's story...well, the child's.
There were other great tips on how to communicate the difference between secrecy and confidentiality, how to empower your children to talk about (or NOT talk about) their own adoption to others, and tips on when it might be best to reveal the whole story to your child....difficult details and all. Bottom line was that you need to start talking about adoption the minute your child enters your family, keep the communication lines open and clear, and always welcome the topic if your child brings it up. They will sense your body language and any hesitancy might be read as a message that you are uncomfortable or threatened by the topic. Be sure you let them know that whatever they are feeling is OK. Don't tell them you understand...unless you are an adoptee yourself. Always speak of their birth family with honor and respect. Always emphasize their inherent worth and value.
There truly was so much more I could tell you about what I experienced this weekend, but I have a feeling only about 3 of you have made it this far. I do have more to say about a vision and passion God stirred in my heart while I was there. I definitely came away with a plan to move forward on something and I'll give you a hint...it's not towards another adoption in our family. :)