Monday, March 5, 2012

Guest Post by Jen Hatmaker

This morning, I got a panicked email from my dear friend who just had the fast-forward button pressed on her adoption. They are now throwing jackets and socks and toys and granola bars into suitcases and paying through the nose for tickets to Ethiopia to go fetch their two new daughters.

What hair products do I bring?

What food should I have in the freezer?

How are we going to talk to each other??

Am I going to be able to pull this off?

Please, please tell me this is going to be okay. 

We are only six months home with our two Ethiopians, ages 8 and 6. So we’re clearly experts (sarcasm). All at once, it seems our panicked overseas trip was a million years ago and one nanosecond ago. In preparation, I read all the books and joined the online groups and went to the conferences and logged in to the podcasts. I obsessed over all the things I was supposed to obsess over: their names, their hair, their language, their food, their shoe sizes, their bedding. I read blogs and articles and became fake BFF’s with Dr. Karyn Purvis (in my head). I drove everyone mad with my myopic perspective, which was: “We’re adopting. There is nothing else.” We theoretically readied the house and everyone who lived in it.

Then we actually got them and brought them home.

Whoa, Nelly.

I mean, WHOA, NELLY.

Remember when you were pregnant with your first baby, and you registered for ten-thousand pieces of baby paraphernalia you read about in Consumer Digest, and then you birthed the actual baby and realized the “wipe warmer” dried out your wipes, the Diaper Genie was actually a complicated piece of crap, all those 0-3 month dresses were useless because she hardly made it out of her filthy onesie, and she actually had visceral hatred for the $150 baby swing? And what you really needed to know was how can I get this dadgum baby to sleep and can someone help me understand what is happening to my nipples, for the love of Moses??

This phenomenon applies to adoption as well, folks.

Sure, you need to direct some energy to the details, so here is a quick summary:

Hair: wide tooth comb, water bottle (hair must be thoroughly wet before you comb through it each morning), crème (thank you, Lord, that the $60 Miss Jessie’s Baby Buttercream is too heavy for my Remy and the best stuff is the Shea Butter for $5 at Target). If you have a boy, shave it short and worry with it later. If you have a girl, get it braided before you leave the country and worry with it later. (You are going to have WAY bigger fish to fry when you first get home.) I took a hair class called “Brown Babies, Pink Parents.” Could you die?

Skin: Don’t even play with some silly vanity lotion from Bath and Body Works. Their skin will actually mock it and kick it in the face. Go big here: Eucarin Aquafor, Arbonne for Kids, Cetaphil. Every morning. Every night. Ask around for suggestions. I put this question out on Facebook and got 187 responses. I wish I were kidding.

Food: You are going to have good luck with whole foods. Our littles didn’t even know what processed food was. They eat like sane people in Ethiopia, meaning, well, real food. You know, that was grown. Our kids ate eggs, avocados, tropical fruit, beef, chicken, sweet potatoes, and stuff like that until I figured out how to cook some of their favorites. Your son can eat ten avocados a day for three weeks and live. Um, I’ve heard.

Language: Please believe me, this will not be the struggle you think. God hardwired children’s brains to acquire language, and acquire it quickly they do. We had flip cards of common Amharic words we used at first, but communication developed so easily and quickly, we were yammering along in no time. Although I do miss the theatrics and charades we used at first. You have not lived until your husband acts out “how to wipe correctly.”

Clothes: Please don’t spend (or let your friends spend) a ton of money on clothes before they get home. 1.) Their sizes are quirky. 2.) They grow and gain weight so quickly once you get them. Like, freakish growth. 3.) They have a FASHION OPINION. My daughter, five when we brought her home, turned up her nose at half the darling things in her closet and absolutely refused to wear them, and I was all you were in an orphanage two weeks ago, Miss Project Runway! Just get a few basics and fill in the gaps once they are home.

Now. Onto the real business.

Dear one, it is not the shoes and skin and hair and food you need to devote the most energy toward: It is their heart. No matter what age your child comes to you, abandonment runs deep and the wounds are severe. Broken biological attachment breaks something in our children, and it is the work of the heavens to fuse it back together.

Your child will come to you scared and alone and ashamed and insecure. At best. Our darlings were loved and held and nursed when they were babies, Jesus be praised, so they learned healthy attachment when it mattered. The pathways were formed, and we are finding them again together, day by day. We are learning to tap into the deposits of trust and security they once enjoyed, though they were so brutally interrupted.

But even with this potential for healthy attachment, our first two months home were difficult beyond words. Our kids were terrified. And who could blame them? They found themselves in a foreign land speaking a foreign language with foreign people who ate a lot of cheese (note: dairy products = no). They were sad and scared and overwhelmed and lost. We kind of all were.

Here are some tips that helped pull us through the mire. These things matter:

Stay home. I mean it. Stay the heck home. Cancel your calendars. Pull out of everything you’re involved in. Temporarily quit your small group and your Bible study and your volunteer position at church on Wednesdays and your gym classes. Katy, bar the door. Circle the wagons with your little family and hunker down. Do not take your newbie to Target. Do not drag them to public places. Do not spend two hours in the car running errands with them. Keep the moving parts to an absolute minimum.

Keep visitors at bay for awhile. Your child doesn’t know you yet. A lot of revolving faces simply reinforces the notion that people come and go, and he is alone. Yes, these people love you and love your child. They are thrilled he is home and care so deeply. You know that. He doesn’t. Tons of smiling, oversized, touchy strangers constantly in and out make for a nervous, insecure child. Our friends left dinner on our porch and texted us. Our parents chomped at the bit waiting, while we worked our way through the early storm of transition. God bless them.

To that end, prepare your family and friends in advance for this very important attachment plan: No one touches, kisses, holds, or meets the needs of your new one except you and your spouse. No one. Tell them in advance and explain why. Your child needs to learn right away that you are his mother and father. YOU ARE. You will meet his needs. You will hold him when he cries. He belongs to you, and you are forever. He is coming from a multiple-caregiver situation, so if twenty strangers hold and kiss and feed him and rock him in his new environment, nothing has changed at all. He will struggle to attach to you because you are not his sole caregiver. This principle is not permanent, but it is so necessary at first. Tell your family and friends to give him a “high five” and that’s about the end of it for a bit.

Know this: Those first few weeks and months will more than likely be difficult. They might be downright disastrous. You will struggle through feelings and emotions you didn’t know you were capable of. You will cry. They will cry. They may absolutely spaz out actually. You will wonder if your life is ruined or if happiness will ever return to your home. Beloved, IT WILL. It so will. They are grieving and processing and transitioning. It’s just hard – on them, on you, on the bio kids if you have them. There is no magic formula that will skirt your family around this chaos.

But you will emerge.

Your child will learn to trust you. God will begin to mend the broken pieces. He can do this. He is big enough to put a heart back together. You will discover love bubbling up in the cracks, transforming you from this clunky, awkward, uncertain group of people to a family. You’ll watch as her real self emerges, peeking out from behind the fear and loss. You may even realize that like an idiot, you though she was shy, and she is actually a firecracker (Jen raises hand). Your son will start to sing again, and he may become the adorable soccer star you’ve always dreamed of (Jen raises hand).

Then one day, you have this day; it’s just a day. The kids, all five of them – the three bio kids and the two newest Hatmakers – all go to school and come home competing for space to talk about how fun Dr. Suess Day was and the Million Minute Read project they are doing so their librarian, Mr. McCarthy, will shave his head, and they walk in and dump their backpacks where I told them not to and grab a snack, teasing each other. Then ten minutes later, their friends start knocking on the door like they always do, racing to the trampoline and inventing some sort of Dodge Ball Trampoline Game that will make at least two kids cry, but I’ll ignore it because I told them no crying if you’re going to roughhouse. Then I say homework and they are all aw, man, but in they come, sitting at the table, doing math and reading English words and writing English sentences and saying, “I know about to and two and too now, Mom. Is easy for me.” And we eat dinner, seven of us around the table, playing “high/low”, talking about our days, and the new eight-year old says his low was when his big brother got hurt, and that makes me melt just a bit. Then an hour later, I’m tucking them in with kisses and snuggles and the little one, with an arm snaked around my neck, prays Dear God, tank you for my mom. She’s a cute mom. She’s my best mom. And for all my family. And for Texas. Dear God, amen. And the brown brother prays Tank you for my friends and dis good food. Tank you for mom who cooks dis good food. Help us be kind. Amen. And they drop right to sleep, safe in their beds, no nightmares for months now. And I come downstairs and look at my husband and think:

We’re doing it. We’re a family. God made us into a family.



You’ll get there too, dear one. God will make a family out of you yet. Stay the course. May God continue to bring beauty from ashes in our stories, giving the world a picture of grace and redemption and healing.

All His mercy and goodness to you today.

Thank you so much, Jen! Everyone be sure and donate to one of Jen's good friend, Gina, our mama of the week. See that tab up at the top that says 'AFRICA'? You can find their video there. Thank you so much for helping to support their adoption.

61 comments:

  1. Thank you so much for your beautiful post! I laughed and cried, it really touched my heart. I know I will come back to it for advice and encouragement when we reach that part of our journey. God bless you and your precious family! :)

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  2. thanks for the reminder of what is important. this was needed as I am scrambling to figure out what to bring on our trip to get our son.....following your advice and not even worrying about his hair :)

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  3. Thanks for this. Brought some tears for sure. I look forward to being on this journey one day with my wife and son. Funny thing - I missed that your last name was Hatmaker. When I read "the three bio kids and the two newest Hatmakers" I thought it was some word for adopted child that I hadn't heard before. :-)

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  4. Jen, you rock.

    We adopted our abso-stinkin'incredible Ethiopian kids 9 years ago. We were weird, (no famous people were adopting from Africa then, neither was anyone else that we knew of). We got home with our kids and WOW I had no idea what to do with my new son and daughter (ages 4 and 6). I would hang out in the ethnic hair care aisle of Wal-mart, stalking people and looking over their shoulders for clues. I even decided I was brave enough to ask a "nice" lady what to buy, she gave me a dirty look, then mumbled something about white people shouldn't adopt if they don't even know how to fix hair (This was the ONLY bad experience...but it stuck). My daughter had such a nappy afro for 6 months, until an angel came along and saved us all (I actually found a girl at a school program with adorable braids and stalked her until she clung to an adult I was able to beg for advice...and who kindly gave me a phone number). We learned to braid, lotion like mad, and even figured out how to do some pretty cute extentions.

    We also had the struggles with attachment (oh, do I have stories), but I am glad to announce that with lots of hugs, compliments on beautiful chocolate skin, and assurance that God made them that way for a reason, I have some pretty amazing teenagers.

    God builds families. He knows how to build them, and WOW he can even make crazy people like my husband and I into pretty good parents. Who knew! :)

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  5. This was delightful. Funny, heartwarming, full of room for the Lord to work and move. Loved it.

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  6. Love bubbling up through the cracks is so, do right. This is needed encouragement to so many adoptive parents who feel lost and alone when they thought it would feel like all their dreams were coming true. But they are, aren't the? Just in a way that you don't recognize. Not right away. God does have the power to heal broken hearts -- even mine.

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  7. What a beautiful post, funny and poignant at the same time. I'm about to share this with friends and family who are in the process of gathering new children from places far-flung.

    Jenny
    http://twinprints.wordpress.com

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  8. Awesome post! We are just beginning our adoption journey and I have found myself looking at kids' furniture, bedroom decorations, etc. Hello! I have to remind myself that it will prob. be a year and a half before I even know their gender, age, and if we are going to adopt one or two children. I think it is an instinctual behavior to try to prepare, but you are right, we totally get ahead of ourselves. I cracked up at the "you haven't lived until you've seen your husband how to act out how to wipe correctly" comment.

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  9. Love. Love. Love. Sitting here crying for such a beautiful post about family.

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  10. so much truth in this post.
    people thought i was a nazi when i barred the door and stayed home for soooooo long.
    the dividends are rich and lasting. your counsel is wise.

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  11. That was such a great post! God does have all the details worked out. He is so good at making a family! There is such truth to what you wrote; knowing how hard it may be initially, thinking you may be losing your mind, but knowing there's a light at the end of the tunnel.
    Thank you!

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  12. So candid and practically helpful. It's already printed, hole-punched and in the binder. (Nerdy, I know. But at least I'll know where it's at when I freak out!)

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  13. Oh, and I forgot to mention that if anyone is interested, Seven is featured as the product partner on OrdinaryHero.org this month! Check it out!

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  14. Oh my how I laughed and cried! You hit the nail on the head so many times. Thank you for sharing your family and your heart with us! ~ Janelle

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  15. Oh Jen Hatmaker! As usual, I laughed, I cried and I said a big A-MEN SISTA to dairy products = no! You nailed it!!!!!!!!!! So thankful you are willing to be bold and use your platform to educate and encourage!

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  16. Well said. So many truths so humorously and profoundly shared. Typical Jen. :) Lots of similar type truths are being shared (and all are invited to share) at www.sharingadoptiontruth.blogspot.com. Hope, healing, encouragement that whatever your roller coaster of adoption emotion may look like you are not alone! Thanks again for speaking truth Jen.

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  17. I needed this right now like you would not believe. Praise Jesus for you and your family and for HOPE amid fear.

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  18. What a beautiful post!! We are two years home with our three from Ethiopia. I also miss the charades. Love is shown so much through action. I just get so excited when I read of others stepping out of the boat. Keep your eyes on Jesus as the storm rises around you. HE will keep you above water.

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  19. [...] the desire of my heart as beautifully, effectively and accurately as Jen Hatmaker did in this guest post she had on someone else’s blog. Beautiful. Practical. Brings warmth to my heart and tears to my [...]

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  20. Sara Ashley MorrowMarch 6, 2012 at 9:43 AM

    Please forgive me for what might seem to be an out of place or odd comment, because, I do not have any children, nor am I in the process of "bringing" children home. Oh, how I wish I was. My heart yearns to be in that place & my spirit hopes that frantic day of "throwing things in suitcases" to go get my children will one day be possible.
    Right now, my journey is about being best friends with every kind of medical, pharmaceutical, nutritional/whole health & psychological professional there is, to see if one of them can correctly articulate and diagnose what causes my myriad of health issues that keep my home bound (and by home bound, I mean -27 yrs old, moved from my independent home of 4 yrs in Texas to my parents home in MS. (We're talking about an 8 yr struggle that caused me to withdraw from school three times (but dag-nabbit, that diploma finally came in the mail- praise God for online classes!) I hope one day, that the light that is at the end of my tunnel now, will be directly overhead & when it is, I'll start the journey to bring my babies home (from wherever they might be). In the mean time, I want to thank you for sharing this delightful, touching, & real story of what it's like to bring someone else's baby home to become your baby. It made me laugh (tell your husband, that the image of him "correctly wiping" made me laugh so hard that my mom called upstairs to see if I was "okay". :) I'm more than okay.), tear up, & smile. It also gave me hope. God knew I needed a glimpse of hope today. I will be praying for your new family & all of the family's bringing home the other pieces of their hearts.
    I was brought to this blog by Facebook & a friend of a friend, who is kind of just an acquaintance. So really, I have to say God brought me here. :) No mistake in that. Like those sweet brown babies say, "Tank you God!"

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  21. Beautiful. My adopted China doll is now 15. Looking back at all that Jesus has done in my family overwhelms me. Jen, thank you for continuing to share your journey through this process. Good, good stuff.

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  22. I happened upon your blog and this post was beautiful. I laughed and cried!

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  23. awesome.. you are really that good mom a hundred times over

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  24. Beautiful words, beautiful family. Thank you for sharing.

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  25. I love it, love it, love it! We wondered if God would ever really knit this family together and then one day we looked up and realized we didn't have to force it or fake it anymore. It just was. It took time and that was OKAY! Thank you for the reminder of those early days- it makes me smile thinking of how far we've come.

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  26. What a great post! Forget the "like" button - I need a "love" button for this one! :)

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  27. We have four from China and I couldn't agree more about 98% of your post (the food part was a bit different!!) Just like our biological children our adoptive children have their own ideas about how things should be. We spend twice the amount of time with our adopted children verses our biological children, simply because they had to catch up on attention. Ours were adopted at 3, 12, 6 and 12. They are now 15, 20, 13 and 17 WOW! Life does calm down but the healing is still taking place---Blessings, Sheila Temple

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  28. Ahhhhhh....you always make me laugh and I can ALWAYS relate :) Home almost 5mo...hard to believe! Thank you for putting into words what life is really like :)
    Love, Tracy

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  29. Home almost three years and wish I had read this before. (Although we adopted from Ukraine - so no hair issues!)
    Thanks. You write beatuifully.

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  30. Thank you for this heartfelt blog. As a future Nana to two little boys (The Fowler Family), I won't feel so left out when they tell me to wait a while. Your blog made me laugh, and cry and cry and cry.

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  31. Jen, we are six months in, and it's hard, so very hard. Thank you for writing this, thank you for the encouragement. We will get there. We will. Some days I can almost believe it....

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  32. I'm not stalking you, I promise. It's just that I'm South African and my parents have a boat load of kids all different colors and languages in their house and my heart absolutely wants to stand up and beat wild drums of gratitude to the people who join this calling - loving on the orphans. It's hard. I know. For everyone. But oh my if it isn't the most powerful promise for all of us too. So thank you. And for being real and sharing the insides. Thank you.

    ~Lisa-Jo

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  33. You nailed it! That is a perfect description of life when you are first home. Thanks for another great post and a wonderful reminder of what families go through when we first become families.

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  34. "God will make a family out of you yet. Stay the course. May God continue to bring beauty from ashes in our stories, giving the world a picture of grace and redemption and healing."

    AMEN.

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  35. "This may not be the answer for another girl like me, but I'm not on a soapbox saying how we all should be. I'm just trusting in my feelings, and I'm trusting God above, and I'm trusting you can give this baby all his mother's love..."
    -From God's Arms to my arms' to yours

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  36. A breath of fresh air. My husband and I adopted a 5 year old boy from Tanzania 3.5 years ago. You hit everything on the head, practical and important wisdom! Thanks for the uplifting and reassuring candid blog!

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  37. the freakish growth comment---so true, Jen! like seriously, how does she grow so stinkin' fast?!

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  38. Emily WeatherfordMarch 7, 2012 at 12:10 PM

    I can sooo relate to so much of this. You have the ability to put into words a lot of what we have experienced. The fast growth, the not liking dairy, the language barrier (not that difficult to manage for us either), the worrying about hair/clothes when you should be preparing for out-of-control anger that you've never seen from someone so small. I remember so many of my wonderful, well-meaning friends telling me that she was "just two" and all two year olds throw tantrums. But I knew her's were different because they came from a different place. She is four now and beautifully attached to my husband and me. I know our journey is not over, but I love knowing there are other families going through the same things to make their families the way God designed them to be.

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  39. beautiful, beautiful, beautiful! It's so true that we pray and pray and prep and prep for our kids to come home, but it doesn't stop once they are here!

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  40. Home for three months with our darlings 3 year old girl! Tears are falling on my keyboard as i read this post. Thanks Jen...Just what i needed to hear today. Blessings to all of you adoptive parents...What a ride this is!

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  41. This was awesome. Our adoptions have been a bit different than yours, but I could've written almost the same post (minus the language part). Totally brought the tears. What I really wanted to comment on, though, is that you *must* try CeraVe on their skin. It's miraculous. Sometimes you have to ask for it behind the pharmacy counter, but it's not prescription. It is AMAZING. Worth every penny.

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  42. Jen, I wish you lived near enough that we could grab coffee and talk about our kiddos. Truth telling in adoption is what we need. It is so what I need.

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  43. Thanks for another post about the truth of adoption that people don't understand unless they are experiencing life with adoptive children. We have four from my womb and three from Ethiopia. It has been almost 9 months since we've been home with the newest additions to our family. Our ages range from 15 down to two. I too, have experienced most of what you have shared and some moments are worse than others...I need to remember to count my blessings, all seven of them!

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  44. What a heartfelt (yet, very realistic) post about adopting transracially, but also older children. I think you have excellent advice about building attachments, esp. in terms of starting over and controlling their exposure to others and the environment. I had never really thought about something as simple and confusing as Target! Glad to read that your family has become a family. Very sweet!

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  45. Love this line, "Broken biological attachment breaks something in our children, and it is the work of the heavens to fuse it back together." Bless all of you that are doing His work.

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  46. I don't know if my reply is actually going to the woman above. If you would like and you feel God's leading I would be glad to try to help you with your health issues. I work all the time with people over the phone. You may call and find out more at 620-585-2556 or go to my website: www.theherbhouseks.com. Connie Newcome

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  47. This is indeed a great post. We adopted from Haiti 2 years ago...two teenagers. I could write a lot, but not perhaps as interestingly as this lady! It has been quite the ride, though, and thankfully it has gotten better!

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  48. thank you for this honest, yet encouraging post! we have 2 biological sons and have started the process of adopting out of the foster care system and i alternate between reading lots of books and trying to plan lots of details, to being crazy scared that our kids will never attach and we are completely crazy to even try to do this. i needed this reminder that it is God who will heal hearts and create families. thank you.

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  49. Brooke van der RietMarch 12, 2012 at 3:40 PM

    Thank you for being so honest, authentic and encouraging. We are weeks away from bringing our 4 children home from Ethiopia to join our current family of 6. We have been preparing for a long long time because that was all I could do to keep from going crazy as we overcame obstacle after obstacle in our adoption process. Both my husband and I needed to hear your advice on staying home and disconnecting from the world so we can connect with our kids first. Your encouragement about persevering through the chaos and focusing on loving them and building trust and security. Blessings to you and your family!

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  50. [...] out the post here:  http://give1save1.com/2012/03/05/guest-post-by-jen-hatmaker/ Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. This entry was posted in [...]

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  51. I am printing this sucker out and pasting it to my wall. Our adoption situation seems like it will never happen sometimes, but God is good, and I know it will. And then I need my granola bars and my heart. Tank you God, for Jen.

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  52. In tears, loving your post. May have to share it with family and friends. :) Awesome! Thanks! We're hoping to travel and bring our son home in May. It's just starting to sink in that after 2 1/2 years this is actually going to happen. Now how to make it work!

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  53. what a great post! Thank you! Its been 10 months since my little ones have come home. ohhh how i was blinded by my own dreams of "the adoption stories" tv shows. real life is here....
    Its so nice to know im not alone!

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  54. What an awesome post! I laughed, I teared up, I went back in time. So glad another blogger shared this on her blog.

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  55. [...] Jen Hatmaker’s words about life at home after you bring your adopted child home were of great comfort to me. [...]

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  56. [...] If you are in the adoption process, and feeling overwhelmed by the first struggle - here is an encouraging article for you.  [...]

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  57. [...] have shared this link from Jen Hatmaker before. And I reread this post this week, and it touched my heart even more than [...]

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