I received an e-mail over Spring Break from a mother who subscribes to our blog. She and her husband adopted two preschool-age siblings a number of years ago who are now young adults struggling both emotionally and spiritually. I have permission from her to share the message she sent me along with my response with our blog readers. Some non-essential details of the story have been changed for confidentiality purposes…
My husband and I adopted two children seventeen years ago at age 5 and 3. They were siblings. We raised them in the Christian faith and our family strived to be on a Christ-like path as much as we were able. Both children have many mental health issues and have increasingly struggled along their road to adulthood. Today, our daughter Rebecca, 20, is someone we barely know. She spent her spring break in an intensive outpatient program, in part because there were no beds at our local psychiatric hospital at the time of her most recent crisis. The time she spent in the program (and most of her previous treatment) has been of little impact and she’s right back to the same behavior she had prior to entering. They added bipolar to her alphabet soup diagnoses (ADD, Asperger’s, PTSD, anxiety, depression, adoptive issues). She is rejecting God, us, and her family when she is in the throws of her illness, preferring to be with strange men and pursue risky behavior. Our goal is to make it to next week when she has a follow up appointment with a new psychiatrist who has recently opened a practice near our home. She’s taking a couple of classes at a local community college and works part time in retail. Matthew is more functional but sleeps most of his off-time away. He dropped out of college during his first semester and has no prospects for a life after that. He won’t accept medical or therapy help for several years now, and shows little initiative when it comes to looking for work.
Questions we wrestle with are spiritual, honestly. Would God have spared them in their early life from abuse/neglect, put them with us for all these years, only to return her (now) to the life she was rescued from earlier? We believe that her illness is not more powerful than the God who lives in her yet we watch her slip further and further away from the Christian life we hoped her to have and into the life of dysfunction and mental illness, seeking out people who are like her, very ill mentally, or others that see her illness and take advantage of her. She has all but moved out physically from our family. There are still some snippits of time where we see the old Rebecca but that, too, is leaving us. Why won’t God show us what to do more effective than what we are doing? We are prayerful people and are so distraught with anguish as to how to help anymore. We are desperate not to lose her.
I’m so sorry for what you and your husband are going through. I’ll make a point of praying for the two of you, along with your kids at church this weekend. I wish I could tell you that your experience is rare, but I’ve heard stories very similar to yours far too often as a child and adolescent psychiatrist over the last two-plus decades. Here are some things to consider…
First, while this truth is hard to comprehend, Jesus loves your kids even more than you do. No doubt he’s more distressed about the status of their relationship with him and their inability to this point to fulfill the potential he’s given them. I suppose Jesus gives all of us free will so that He can be glorified when the Holy Spirit works through us to conform our will to his. But free will can be both a blessing and a curse.
Second, I would see the struggles your kids are experiencing as evidence that we live in a fallen world in the same way that kids with cancer, acts of terrorism, natural disasters and every manner of brokenness imaginable serves as evidence of a fallen world. Mental illness is at least as painful and destructive as any other type of disease. Sadly, the struggles you describe with your kids are all too often typical of the natural progression of mental illness. Here’s what I do know from Scripture and personal experience…God has demonstrated Himself to be completely trustworthy and He knows the past, present, and future of our children. I have to trust Him with their care if for no other reason than He has infinitely more information than I ever will to comprehend what is best for them.
Third, I talk to FAR too many loving, Christian parents in my day job who adopted children with the understanding that if they were diligent in their love and care, the kids would assuredly overcome the circumstances from which they came and become mature, Christian adults. All too frequently, that’s not the case. From a research standpoint, we’re coming to understand how powerful genetic influences can be in determining complex patterns of behavior and social interaction. There’s a growing awareness that many children adopted from birth may exhibit the signs of attachment disorders without ever having experienced abuse, neglect or pathologic care. Trauma can play a huge role in determining a child’s future ability to self-regulate behavior and emotions and has long-term implications for overall health. As parents, we can have a powerful influence upon our kids…but there are lots of other influences that impact our kids as well and sometimes adopted kids are very predisposed toward a certain life path independent of the love and care they receive at home. Who could love us more than Jesus? Yet despite his perfect love…infinitely more perfect than the love we as parents can provide… many reject His love and choose to rely upon their own wisdom.
I’m thrilled that the church is getting more involved with adoption of “at-risk” kids, but I also feel strongly that parents need to be fully aware of the challenges they’re likely to face and to “consider the cost” prior to adopting. We need to let parents know that all of their love and concern for their kids provides no guarantee of a positive outcome. The church also needs to be prepared to come alongside parents raising kids exposed to trauma or abuse and proactively put the necessary supports in place to allow families who adopt to maintain their active role in their local church family.
Finally, I’m convinced that God never wastes a hurt. Is it possible that he’s already using the circumstances your kids are in for his purposes? You said this in your e-mail:
Why won’t God show us what to do more effective than what we are doing? We are prayerful people and are so distraught with anguish as to how to help anymore.
Could it be that God is using this circumstance to draw you and your husband into a deeper relationship with him? Let’s try to look at this situation from God’s perspective, to the extent we’re able. Relationship is HUGELY important to God. Through Jesus’ death on the cross God paid a horrible but necessary price in order to have a relationship with us. Is it possible that God is using the brokenness that you and your husband are currently experiencing as a means of drawing you closer to him? I don’t believe that God necessarily allows harm to come to one person as a way of helping another person, but I do believe that he can use the pain and brokenness inherent in our fallen world for good.
I’ll be praying for you and your kids. I strongly suspect our readers will be as well. Your kids are blessed to have such faithful and loving parents!
Check out Shannon Dingle’s blog series on adoption, disability and the church. In the series, Shannon looked at the four different kinds of special needs in adoptive and foster families and shared five ways churches can love their adoptive and foster families. Shannon’s series is a must-read for any church considering adoption or foster care initiatives. Shannon’s series is available here.