I have a biological brother named John. He and I have always been together, so this is his story as much as it is mine. The story of how Social Services actually intervened is complicated, so to make a long story short, we'll suffice it to say that the state of North Carolina saw my biological mother and father unfit as parents.
We were put into foster care at that time- over the next 7 years, John and I were in and out of several homes. Our life became a paradox: what should have been temporary became permanent... we were in a permanent state of "temporary" homes. Eventually, we came to believe that it was only a matter of time before we would leave every house.
Foster care was supposed to be a safe place for a child to wait until a family could adopt us. That was true with all of our homes except one. This couple was woefully unprepared to handle a brother and sister with such serious behavior problems. The abuse began. Emotional abuse turned physical, and then the couple began turning on each other. We lived with that family for 3 years... we were confused but not really surprised when they mentioned that we were going to meet a new family that might adopt us.
So, imagine my surprise when I met Anders and Kathleen. All this talk about "adoption" and "family". Sure, ok. I was not convinced. Or impressed. At this point I don't think I appreciated or understood the necessity of adoption. Walking up the stairs to my new bedroom for the first time I remember so clearly stopping, turning around, and asking, "Do you have cable?" No. "Oh. Well, do you have horses?" also no. Then I comforted myself with the thought that I wouldn't be here long anyway.
But, to my dismay, they were not being flippant. We really did get adopted. It wasn't completely clear to me what that meant, but I knew it would be a long time before I lived in a house that had cable. Fortunately, I did get horseback riding lessons, so life wasn't all bad after adoption.
I don't remember the circumstances or my surroundings when it happened, but I do know that there was a time when it clicked in my mind that adoption meant forever. It meant that even when I was really really bad, I would stay and no one would threaten to "take me back". It meant that I wouldn't ever have to say goodbye again, and that I wouldn't have to feel confused about who to feel loyal to.
A year went by. The adoption became final on December 8 of '95. I now had a mother, a father, and a new sister, Brigitte, who I immediately decided I wanted to be "just like". The next summer, I went away to Girl Scout Camp... I think it was at this time that I had finally started bonding with this new family because when my mom came to pick me up, I was simply overjoyed. This is also a special memory of my Mom's.
The first few years that followed were, and my mom and dad agree, bizarre and difficult. Not only were we in a new school, a new house... it was a new way to live. Abuse and foster care severely stunt a child's social development. I had absolutely no social graces, which made it hard to make friends; my attachment disorder made it hard to keep them when I found one. The family thing was weird too... We had rules, schedules, chores, family meetings and devotions. And what's this new thing...family vacations?
The years went slowly by. Healing was slow and painful.
Anders and Kathleen went from legal guardians to "Mom" and "Dad', and family felt real. Arguments? All the time. But would it have been real without it? We became closer and closer, probably because if there was one thing this new family knew how to do right, it was vacation. We were always going on another camping trip, going to an amusement park, visiting our Grandmother in Florida and getting sick on all the grapefruits we picked from her trees in the back yard. Dad bought a boat (Mom didn't stay angry about that too long) and it seems like every weekend we were at Falls Lake water skiing, fishing or just getting sunburned. We went white-water rafting, cave exploring, horseback riding... I even learned some of the finer things in life like piano, English horseback riding and art . We were as close to normal as any other family... except for all the "you're adopted" jokes.
Now it's 16 years later, and I have a family of my own. When people hear my story, they are amazed at how "normal" I am, despite the tragedies that happened in my early childhood.
That is the power of Jesus Christ. Counselors, pastors, books and the dozens of family vacations all played their part in the healing process, but without the Lord, there was no chance I could look back on the abuse and abandonment and still be able to say "It is well, it is well with my soul."
|My mother, father and me on our 16th adoption anniversary, 2010|
|My husband and me with our daughter, Joelle, 2011|