My friends tried to explain some things to me- really, they did. But, like many other experiences in parenting, you just don’t understand until you’ve experienced it. Parenting adopted and fostered children is different. Not too difficult, just different. In fact, it’s very rewarding. But there are so many things I wish someone would have told me or what I was told, I wish I would have understood. Such as:

:: Fostering and adopting children has nothing to do with my sacrifice or my heart and everything to do with God adopting me into His family. As soon as it becomes about me, it becomes too difficult to love or to let go. If my purpose is to glorify Him by loving fatherless children, I know that He will help me through the tough times.

:: I expected my new children to grieve for their former families. I did not realize how deeply I would grieve for their former families and for my hurting child. Knowing that there was a mother in China who could not care for her son with a birth defect and had to give him up. Knowing that past mistakes had caught up with the birth parents of my foster children, resulting in them losing their parental rights; regardless of how deeply they loved their children.

::  I was surprised at the anger and disgust I felt for the behavior of parents who abused a helpless child and then the ability to love those same parents. God’s love is the only explanation for my change of heart.

:: I naively pictured a sweet relationship with birth parents who are transformed by Christ’s love and become part of our extended family. I now know that some people are not ready to admit their mistakes and change, even if it results in prison and losing their children. I also know that God isn’t finished with them, yet!

::  I expected the children’s termination hearing (to remove parental rights) to be a relief, the closing of an ugly chapter and beginning of a fresh start. But instead it was horribly heart-breaking. And there are no ‘fresh starts.’ Only picking up pieces and allowing God to transform broken hearts into a new family willing to love brokenness.

:: I have learned that love is not an emotion, but a daily decision to shower a child with affection and nurturing. Some of my children have been easier to feel affection for than others, including biological children. I remember being appalled at the phrase ‘fake it ‘til you make it.’ I couldn’t imagine ever having to ‘fake love’ a child. I have since found it necessary. Some children are just more difficult to cuddle and tolerate. But every child deserves love and I have daily chosen to love my children. God has blessed that decision with affection and bonding over time.

::  I wish someone warned me that I would not remember the first 3 weeks of my son’s life in America. I was lost in a jet-lagged and sleep-deprived fog and do not remember introducing him to family, taking him to church for the first time, or being conscious. Or that it would take a full 6 months to re-set his internal clock and learn to sleep through the night halfway around the globe.

:: Rejection hurts, even if it’s from a person under 3 feet tall. You can’t laugh it off or ignore it. When we were in China, it was humiliating to have my new son start screaming and lunging for anyone Chinese within 6 feet of us. He was scared of us and couldn’t understand a word we were saying. We looked and smelled strange to him. Who could blame him? Another child was very happy in his previous home. He made it clear that he did not need or want a new family.

::  The guilt of gluttony I would experience after visiting my child’s orphanage. And how it would change my life, and lifestyle, for the better.

::  How broken the foster care system is and the depth of grace required to continue. A greater reason for the Church to pick back up the God-given responsibility to care for the fatherless and hurting. The state was not assigned the job of caring for these children, Christians were. We drop the ball and then complain when others fail. Shame on us.

::  I never dreamed my heart would grow enough to love so many children. Nor did I expect to shed tears six months after sending home a little girl who only spent 10 days with us. It does hurt to let go, but I thank God for the opportunity to love a precious and precocious daughter. I still miss hearing “I lub you, Mama” and her quick-tempered scowl. Again, only God could explain such a love.

Every tear shed has led to greater joy. Every crack in my heart has drawn me closer to God’s heart. But I can’t adequately explain it- you just gotta experience it yourself!