Category Archives: Adoption

The Power of Story

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By Patrick Showers, Associate Elementary Pastor

Woodland Hills Church

The Power of Story

“Once upon a time” … or “in a galaxy far far away” may be familiar tag lines of popular stories, which are very entertaining, but they don’t compare to the power of another kind of story.

A few years back, my wife and I prayerfully decided we wanted more children.  At this point, we already had three young daughters.  I really wanted to have a son but felt confident the genetic jackpot would land on female this next round.   I wasn’t sure I could handle being outnumbered 5 to 1. God placed a desire on our hearts to adopt, and we went from there.  We discovered our desire to adopt an African-American boy was well received.  Several months of paperwork and waiting followed, and then suddenly we got a call.  We drove through the night and arrived in Nashville.  The baby and birth mom were still at the hospital.  As soon as we saw this little one, we fell in love.  After spending some time with his birth mom, a bond began to form.  The following day we headed home.

My son loves to hear this story, especially the part about us falling in love with him and later when his sisters went gaga over him.  It reminds him of who he is and that he is part of our family.  His story merged with our story that day.  My wife has done a wonderful job of creating scrapbooks with photos from each year of our family’s existence.  The kids love to go through and talk about those times.

The power of our story is rooted in reminding us of our value, our importance, and our identity.  My children love to hear their birth stories as a milestone of their being part of our family.  God’s story is powerful in the same way.  The fall of man, the birth of Jesus, his death, and his resurrection all highlight his amazing love, but also our immeasurable value to the Father.  Sharing the God’s whole story during Easter is a great way to help kids merge their stories with his.

Another powerful story is our testimony.  Sharing how we became Christ followers, how our trajectory was diverted and our story merged fully with God’s gives our children insight into our hearts and a glimpse of being a part of a much bigger family – God’s family.  In a way, our testimony is our adoption story.  God adopted us, and when we embraced him as our Father, we became his children.

I encourage you to share stories during this Easter weekend.

  • Tell the story of each child’s birth or adoption (be sure to share what you felt)
  • Tell God’s whole story – the need for a savior, for a price to be paid, and his victory as well as what it means to us.
  • Tell your faith story and let your children know why you decided to follow Christ.
  • Talk about your faith story as your birth story/adoption story and how you are a child of God’s now.

The power of these stories is their ability to remind us of our identity, our value, and connect us.  Let your stories be told, retold, and continuing to be told a milestone.

Small Things with Great Love

We are delighted to bring you a guest post this week from Lauren Mau.  Lauren and her family are regular attenders at Woodland Hills, and her children have grown up in our ministry.  We’re so excited to share her story with you this week!

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By Lauren Mau, Guest Blogger

My husband Peter and I have three children. Peter and I have been together since we were seventeen years old. For my twenty-second birthday, Peter got a vasectomy, just a couple months before we got married. Adoption was heavy on our hearts so we decided to make that a permanent decision.   Our kiddos – Ephraim, Eli and Esther – are fourteen, twelve and nine. We met each of our kids when they were two weeks old.

Before kids, I was a middle school teacher. I soaked myself into my students’ lives. Before school, during school, after school and summers I would find ways to connect with the youth. They taught me how to cook and dance. I sent them to camps and visited with them at their homes and shelters.

When Peter and I adopted our second child, I made the choice to stay home. Daycare was such a nightmare with my oldest that I could not bear to start the search again. Ephraim had been in six different daycares during the first 9 months of his life.   At the first place he never slept. The second I would show up to pick him up only to find all the infants and toddlers strapped to chairs lined up watching Dr. Phil. After finding rubber bands and a game piece in Ephraim’s poop, I decided it was time to move on. The third place called me at work his first day in order to tell me what a naughty boy he was because he bit another child. I left work early, swooped Ephraim up, and he never saw a day two there.

Teaching was missional for me. Everyday I felt empowered to be His love. I felt a responsibility to reflect who He is and humbled when I realized how easy it was for me to lose site of the beauty He created in each and every student.

There was a clinging and dependence Peter and I had on Christ each time we went through the adoption process. It was an intimate, emotional journey filled with overwhelming joy and heartache.

After adopting our third, I began feeling anxious, unsettled. I had been home for three years. Our family was complete. I was growing tired of people abruptly ending our conversation when they found out I stayed home with my kids. Apparently homemaker is not an interesting career choice. I beg to differ. I have been a part of Lochness monster sightings in nearly every lake we have ever driven by. I’ve been followed and confronted by dozens of adults feeling the need to share their judgment on my family as a white mom raising black children, or someone not understanding my son, Eli has autism. I’ve participated in countless episodes of cooking shows that I judge as my kids create culinary masterpieces out of play dough and sand.

I tried to fill that missional feel I thought I lost in staying home with the kids. I started writing a children’s book that would reflect families that looked like ours.   I went to seminars learning how to start your own non-profit. I designed a potential mentoring program for kids who were adopted cross-culturally. I searched houses online in my neighborhood and daydreamed with my husband about opening a home for families in need. I started writing a book of short stories of how Christ had soaked me in His gracious, forgiving and passionate love. Instead of finding fulfillment, I grew more agitated as I would start but never see an idea to completion.

Being a stay home mom often felt small, isolating, and unimportant in the daily mundane routine.

Then one evening as I sat with Jesus in my upstairs hallway while my husband and children slept in the room connected to where I sat, I stumbled on Mother Theresa’s words: “Small things with great love”.

Christ blew me away with His clarity that night as I realized while I had worked so hard to try and do something big and great for Christ, I was missing the truth that all the small things of “staying home” are as crucial and missional as the big things when done in great love.

A tattoo on my wrist with the words “small things with great love” reminds me daily to find contentment, purpose and joy in the everyday moments when I see them through the eyes of Christ’s great love.

Interview with Amy Ames

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By Teresa Sayles, Children’s Curriculum Specialist

Woodland Hills Church

I sat down recently with Amy Ames. She and her husband, Alan, have been coming to Woodland Hills for over twenty years. They also happen to be the parents of 15 children: 4 biological, 11 adopted. As we talked, I got to know more about her family’s story and how God has been working in and through them over the years. They’ve had quite the journey, and I’m excited to share part of that journey with you.

Amy and Alan realized early on in their marriage that they had a shared desire to make a difference in the lives of children. Alan, already a teacher, knew he could do this through his work, but they felt called to do more and began doing foster care. However, it did not take long for them to see that foster care provides more of a temporary fix to the problem rather than solving it long term. They wanted to do what they could to solve it.

Around that same time, Amy met a young girl who was living at a shelter. The girl stuck with her, so much so that she and Alan put a picture of her on their fridge and began praying for her. She tugged at their hearts for some reason. Then, a year and a half later, Amy was at the library looking through a book that had the pictures of kids in Minnesota who were waiting for adoption and currently living in foster care. And there was this same girl, staring at her from the pages. That’s when everything changed. They got a hold of the girl’s social worker and began the process of adoption. That was 18 years ago.

Bringing this young girl into their home was both amazing and incredibly difficult. Alan and Amy are both Caucasian, and their new daughter was African-American. They quickly learned a lot about race and racism. Their daughter struggled with reactive attachment disorder, something all too common among foster children. With the constant shuffling between homes and the abuse that can happen in the system, children who have spent large amounts of time in foster care can often find it difficult to truly attach to others and may even act out because of that. Alan and Amy got a crash course on it all as they worked with her, encouraged her, challenged her, and watched her grow. It was a rollercoaster of a journey with plenty of ups and downs, but in recent years, Amy has been blessed to hear her daughter ask her, “Why did you adopt me? You saw my paperwork and how I’d act out. Why did you do it?” And Amy was overjoyed to be able to share the reason: the love of God. God’s love had drawn them to her, gotten them through the tough times, and brought them to this point.

In many ways, their oldest daughter helped prepare them for the other children that would join their family in the years to come, both adopted and biological. Several of their adopted children struggle with the physical repercussions of substance abuse by their parents or live with the scars of physical and emotional abuse. Yet, every day features its own testaments to God’s workmanship in their lives. Amy sees Him in the loving interactions the siblings share with one another. She sees Him in the way they look out for each other, look after each other, and support one another. They’re invested in each other’s lives. Birthdays are a big family event with everyone gathered to celebrate. She sees God in the difference their kids, many of whom are African-American, have made in the lives of their extended family and how their love and presence have changed hearts and attitudes. She sees how strengths and giftings of one child can be a blessing for another in moments of struggle and frustration. She loves seeing how her children have grown and matured, learning from each other and from their own mistakes. They have become advocates for one another and themselves. And she sees how God has met each of her children individually at different times, how even through painful struggles and situations, He has been working to draw each of them into a greater understanding of His love and grace.

15 is a lot of children, but Amy and Alan wouldn’t dream of having it any other way. They love having a large family. It means their kids all know they’ve got more than just one or two people in their corner. There’s always someone with whom they can talk and laugh and play. They know they are not alone in this life. And for kids who have had to live in the foster care system, that’s huge.

It’s not easy managing a household this big. Amy’s day planner is always at her side and has a lot in it. She shared that one of her biggest prayers is that if one of the kids needs something, they will let her and Alan know, that things won’t go unsaid or unheard. She and Alan try to be mindful and aware at all times as to what is going on with their kids and, if something seems to be going on or a child is acting out, they make sure to spend quality time with him or her, even if that means just taking them along to grab some groceries. Life-changing moments can happen even in the aisle at Target.

When I asked Amy if there’s anything she’d want to change about their early parenting years or advice she’d give her younger self prior to having kids, she laughed. She said there’s not much she’d change except perhaps to be less uptight about things. You simply do what you need to do and don’t allow fear to keep you from moving forward. Let things go and don’t hold onto them, especially when it comes to expectations for both yourself and your kids.

The greatest blessing she feels she’s had over the years is her marriage. She and Alan are very close and have continued to be best friends even through the roughest times their family has endured. It takes an unbelievable amount of time, energy, and sacrifice to care for and raise children, let alone children who come from foster care. Many marriages don’t make it through it all, something Amy has seen firsthand with other adoptive families. She says her greatest piece of advice to couples wanting to have children, especially those interested in adoption, is to make sure both people are equally invested. She emphasized that people need to be on the same page or it won’t work. One parent can’t want it while the other is just okay with it. The needs of the children and what will be required are too extreme for anything less than equal commitment.

Amy is convinced adoption was the absolute greatest gift God has given her and Alan. They love all of their children, but they see a unique blessing in watching their adopted children grow up to be successful and caring individuals. Their biological children, she believes, would have succeeded regardless – they had caring, loving parents and a stable home environment – but she shudders to think what life might have been like for her adopted children had they not brought them into their family. Their situations made them so much more vulnerable and their chances of success would have been substantially lower. But to be able to stand in the gap for each of their kids, biological and adopted, is unbelievably fulfilling. They’ve said for years that, if she or Alan died today, they’d know they did enough in their time on earth. With God’s help and love, they have changed the lives of their children forever.

Your Child is Perfectly Imperfect, and So Are You

We are excited this week to share with you a beautiful article by Sue Prause.  Sue is a long-time Woodland Hills attendee who has volunteered and participated in a number of ministries here including Heroes Gate.  She and her daughter, Leah, recently welcomed a new kitten into their home named Simba.

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By Sue Prause, Guest Blogger

There is a part of me that is a perfectionist. That part of me loves to walk into a perfectly organized pantry, enjoy the perfect cup of coffee, see a perfect score on a test, and find the perfect gift for someone special. I wasn’t raised to be a perfectionist—my parents only asked that I apply myself and do my best. As I grew, I learned that being a perfectionist had its downside, and I found I was often setting myself up to have unrealistic expectations—of myself and of others. The problem was, I wasn’t allowing God to work on that part of me. Other people had problems with perfectionism—my little “tendencies” were minor compared to other people. Or so I thought.

I made the decision to adopt as a single parent about nine years ago. I had long dreamt of mothering a child, and I found myself at a crossroad in life and felt this might be where God was leading me. In July of 2009 I was matched with a baby girl from Ethiopia. I was ecstatic! I would prepare, I would plan for her arrival…it would be perfect!! Oops. There is was again. My mind raced to this imaginary place where I was the perfect mother who had it all together; that mom whose child was always perfectly dressed, ate the perfect diet of organic, healthy foods, and learned to read by age three. I spent countless hours preparing her nursery so everything was put in its place, her clothes were perfectly organized in the dresser drawers and her dresses perfectly hung in the closet. During one of my home visits prior to my daughter’s arrival, the social worker peered into my perfectly organized bedroom closet, where all my tops were arranged by the ROYGBIV color spectrum. She laughed out loud and said, “That won’t last!” The perfectionist in me was incredibly incensed…how dare she? I’ll show her!

And then I brought an actual, real, live baby into my life. Let me just say, I was incredibly humbled to meet my daughter face to face, and it was hardly the perfect Meetcha Day experience adoptive parents dream of. I had been traveling/stuck in airports for two days, had little sleep, and was caught off guard the moment they placed her in my arms. After 10 minutes of “who the heck are you, lady” curiosity, my darling daughter started to scream at the top of her lungs. I panicked. I had no idea what to do. Whatever I tried, she continued to scream. It wasn’t supposed to be like this… Somehow, God got us through that awkward first meeting, and we made it home to Minnesota intact.

I learned pretty quickly that all my planning and preparation didn’t take into account that I wasn’t always in control of this little human being. She didn’t like most of the food I prepared for her (and still doesn’t); she would be calm and happy in the car and then start screaming as soon as we entered the grocery store; she didn’t sleep when I (sometimes desperately) wanted her to. Those perfect little outfits I so lovingly purchased prior to her arrival were now covered in spit-up stains. But do you know what I realized was perfect? God’s grace. He brought me to my knees and showed me grace. He showed me how he perfectly brought together me and this particular child to create a family. I am far from the perfect mother I always imagined I would be, but this child loves me and I love her more than words can describe. In my eyes, she is perfectly imperfect. That’s how God looks at all of us.

But by the grace of God I am what I am; and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.

–1 Corinthians 15:10

The Ask

We are excited and honored to post an article written by guest blogger Leah Berg. Below, she shares her dreams for parenthood and the lessons she’s learned since it became a reality.  Leah and her family are regular attendees at Woodland Hills and Heroes Gate.

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By Guest Blogger Leah Berg

Before kids, I was an outstanding parent. I had a little family in my imagination when I would think of my future, and we were awesome. My little “mind family” was so well-groomed, and we always had clean noses and clothes. We never yelled at each other out of complete and utter exhaustion, and I never begged God for mercy and daylight during those long middle of the night feedings. I could always remember when I had last showered, and no one ever pooped in the bathtub. We were completely self-sufficient, capable of doing all the right things at all the right times, and everything always worked together for good. Sigh, it was heavenly.

….Then we decided to grow our family in real life. *insert screeching tires and shattering glass*

What I didn’t realize (or didn’t want to realize) was how deceptive this “mind family” really was. We learned quickly as we moved forward that a clean anything in life was to be considered a luxury and not to be taken for granted. I learned to sort of love the middle of nights when the whole world was quiet and it was just me and my baby. (No wait, I love sleep. I just felt like I should say that…) And as far as poop in the bathtub…well…I’ve learned that there is nothing a giant wad of Clorox wipes can’t fix. However, by far the biggest lesson I have learned through parenting and our adoption journey is our incredible need (and great privilege) for community. In my mind, there was no need for anyone else’s help along the way, and we only needed to depend on our own strength and ability to get things done.

Let me fill you in on a little secret: the only place where complete autonomy works well in a family, or in life, is in your own mind. That’s it.

Here’s how this realization happened in our life:

My husband Paul and I had been married for 9 years when we decided we wanted to grow our family. We were married young and after nearly a decade of college and grad school, traveling and buying our first home, we decided we wanted to adopt. Adoption had been our plan for our family for a while, and this felt like the right time to pursue it. We began our home study, and started filling out ALL the paperwork. After nine months of being “in process” we were matched with our amazing birth mom, and a month after that on August 23, 2014 our sweet Vivian was born. Throughout these months on our journey we saw first hand the immeasurable love our birth mom has for Viv, experienced the full depth of loss that occurs in adoption, and can say with absolute certainty that we serve a redemptive God who can restore any situation because of His abundant love for us.

And these things are so good and so important. They are the moments we will play over and over in our minds, and it is the story of our precious girl that we will tell her as she grows. But these are not the only lessons we learned and not the only growth that occurred. We also learned very quickly that adoption requires community. From the very start, we needed to continually rely on our community’s support to help get us through. Asking for help did not come easy to us, and receiving help freely offered was more humbling than I imagined it would be. Its scary to be that vulnerable even with close friends, and it felt like weakness to show any lack of self-sufficiency. But thank God for persistent family and friends. It was their relentless grace and support that made each ask for help easier and easier. And it was through the act of “the ask” that we were able to grow in humility and fully appreciate our deep and strong community. I can say unequivocally that we would not be where we are today without these people and their gifts.

We hear it in church all the time, this need for community. In big and little ways in our life and our faith we are told how beneficial it is to surround ourselves with deep and true friends and family that understands and loves and supports. I was skeptical at first for sure, but I am here to tell you, IT’S TRUE. I’m the girl with both hands waving wildly, shouting “YES! YES! AMEN! IT’S TRUE! I’VE LIVED IT!”

By My Side

We asked former Heroes Gate staffer, Noel Carlson, to share a bit about her experience as the parent of a newly-adopted child.  Filled with honesty and insight, we are excited to introduce you to her family’s journey.

By Noel Carlson, Guest Blogger

We recently marked six months since we brought our then 9 year old son home from Haiti. This milestone is means for celebration in our house. The road traveled since our adoption has been rough and weary and yet so rewarding.

Adoption has rocked our world in good and bad ways. I can honestly say, and have openly said, that I wouldn’t choose to relive the past six months and yet I wouldn’t trade them for anything in the world. As Jen Hatmaker wrote, it’s the “After the Airport” where real life takes place. It is here that the bandages are taken off and the wounds revealed. The darkness is lifted and you see how difficult it is…for everyone. I believe that western culture does much to mask what is truly going on underneath the surface. We live a week in chaos and stress, only to show up for appearances with pasted smiles on our faces. Case in point, the irony of me yelling at my family to get us out the door on time for our family pictures this past week. There were tears, and regretful words, and hot rage. And then we sat down for a family portrait and smiled.

Parenting, more than any other area in my life, has revealed in me my need for a Savior. I am broken. I lose my temper. I hurt and ache. My family hurts and aches. And it’s not just because I am a mama of a newly adopted child, though that is hard, but it also could be the parent of the wayward teen, the newborn with colic, the impossible to potty train toddler, or the stepchild that will never seem to like you or much less love you. Parenting. Is. Hard. Bottomline. I need my Savior to walk through it with me.

In a recent article on relational theology, Roger Olson describes relational theology as, “Belief that creatures can and do actually affect God. The relationship between creatures, especially human persons, and God is two-way.” The beauty of all of this hits me and I am reminded that my Savior and I have a two-way dynamic relationship. My God isn’t sitting up in heaven twiddling his thumbs while my son has his umpteenth full blown meltdown. My God is in it with me. And he is in it with my son.

This is the savior I have a need for. I need a savior interacting with me. A living, breathing, heart beating relationship, where the mess is real and he still chooses to enter in. My Savior hurts with me, feels the grief I feel, sees the chaos and turbulence of my life, and delights in my joys and successes. And he does the same for my spouse, my children, the neighbor down the street, the stranger on the bus, and the mama and her newborn in Haiti.

So as I wake up to another day, I do so with my relational theology in place. I know that I will fail a million times, but that the God of all heaven and earth, the one desiring relationship with me, is walking right by my side. We live and breathe and move together. He sees past the forced smiles in family portraits and he loves me just the same.