It seems to be the lament of many adoptive mothers I meet, “I didn’t really feel it.” Somewhere along the line, adoption has become associated with the myth of “love at first sight.” I surely cannot say that no one feels this, but I can say that not everyone does, and not everyone has to. Because the truth is, love is a thing that grows.
I am sure there is truth in the stories that many tell of that moment they saw their child for the first time and knew instantly that God had ordained him to be theirs and fell in love. But I think so much more often, the action of love precedes the actual feeling.
I knew many of my children months or years before I became their mother. When I first met them, I had no idea that this would be a bond we would share. Even when they first moved in and we filled out the foster care papers, I was tentative. I didn’t really feel like a mother, I felt like a stopgap in the system, a temporary solution. Even as we took steps to make their adoptions more permanent, after God had made it clear that we would be a forever family, I fumbled, often feeling more like a babysitter, or on good days, a fun aunt.
Parents who are still feeling this way, be encouraged: you didn’t miss the miracle. The love at first sight moment isn’t really what it is all about, and might not happen for all of us. Some days, love isn’t a feeling, it is a choice.
You may be the momma who opens her arms wide to the baby you’ve seen in photos who now clings tightly to the orphanage worker and cries in fear. You might be the mother sitting in your hotel room oceans away from your home watching her little chest move up and down while she sleeps, and feeling just devastated by how much of her you do not know. You might be the mother starting at the teenager who, years later, still refuses to be loved, who pushes you away just to see when, if, you will ever leave. And I just wanted to tell you, it is ok. You didn’t miss it. You didn’t miss His call and you didn’t miss the miracle. Love is a thing that grows.
From the moment I met my children I loved them in the way that a heart feels they must love another human being, especially one in need of care. I felt that God made it clear to me that I was to raise them and this intensified my love into a fierce, protective, sacrificial love, but it didn't change the fact that it takes some time to make strangers into family. That part is a daily choice. From the day I signed those papers I knew they were mine; I was choosing to be their parent. But just like the choice I had made to adopt a child, I would also have to choose to love them. I would choose to love them each morning and each evening and sometimes many times in between. This often felt like failure. If God was giving me children, why didn’t parenting come a little more naturally? Wasn’t deep, connected, instantaneous love a miraculous gift? In my experience, it was more of a choice than a feeling. It was a process that took growth and the daily choice to love and pour into the small person in front of me, even on days when I felt like more of a babysitter than a mom.
I wish I could tell my young, striving mother heart a thing or two. If I could, I would bring her weary frame a cup of coffee and reach out across the years to hold her hand a whisper to her all of the things that I did not know.
I didn’t know that, one day, love for them would consume me.
In those early days of laying sleepy heads on pillows and training tiny hearts to know Jesus, I had no comprehension of the wild, devastating, uncontainable love I would feel for them. I didn’t know that they would some how be these little extensions of me, that when they hurt I would hurt more deeply than I ever had before and that when they showed delight over a success or an excitement for God’s Word my heart would swell within me and I would be unable to contain tears of joy. I didn’t know that sometimes I would look at them and just love them so much that my heart would physically ache within my chest.
I didn’t know that I would blink and they would be grown up, and I would feel like their little lives were slipping through my fingers and I would want to just soak them up, pause the time and savor the moments; that I had this unspoken expectation in my mind that they would grow up and stay little all at the same time. That no matter what I would never feel that I had done well enough, loved hard enough, or taught them enough, but that wouldn’t keep me from pouring out every ounce of myself anyway.
I didn’t know that I would see the sparkle of my eyes in theirs and hear the lilt of my voice when they spoke, or that I would smell the same scent of my skin when I kissed their foreheads or that over the years their laughs and their mannerisms would become more and more like mine. I didn’t foresee that I would sneak into their rooms late at night just to watch their chests rise and fall and study the way their little fingers curled around the edge of their blankets and that no matter how “big” they got I would still have the curves of even their fingertips etched in my mind.
I didn’t know the rejoicing I would feel as I watched them serve others, when I saw them devouring scripture, praying, or longing for more of God. And I sure didn’t know the inadequacy I would feel as I realized more and more that I was shaping them, helping God make them into the people that He intended them to be.
And at the end of the day I had no idea just how powerful and humbling it would be to acknowledge that it would only be God who could change them, redeem them, and save them, not me. Only He could work in their hearts and know their futures. Only He would had been with them all the days of their lives and would remain with them each day and receive all the glory.
If I could reach back in time and whisper to her, I would tell her that I didn’t know Jesus the way I do now, before I became a mother, and that alone makes it all worth it.
It is not lost on me, the miracle of all that has taken place here to allow me to feel all of these things. I look at these young ladies and so much of it seems like a blur. I can’t exactly pin-point all of the ah-ha moments, but somewhere along the lines, it happened. The daily choice became a habit and the habit became a lifestyle and we became a family.
Somewhere in all the laundry and homework help and consistent discipline and constant, tireless love, it happened that I looked at my child and saw in her such a piece of me and He confirmed with real life what He had spoken to my heart many years before – she is mine.
The youngest stands with her toes pointed out and her hands on her hips and I might as well be looking at a mirror. The oldest smiles gently and speaks truth and reminds me exactly of my mother as if it could somehow be genetic. And when that one smiles all her bottom teeth show, too, and she is confident in Jesus and wants big things from life just like a teenager I once new. And this one loves justice and learning how to cook new things while another shows patience in caring for younger children something I loved just as much at her age.
And for us, this is the miracle: not that we experienced love at first sight but that God has given me a love for these once-strangers that is just as strong as if they had grown in my own womb. That somewhere along the line after weeks or months or years of choosing this kind of love, I suddenly found myself in the place that I am now where I have no choice, where I could not stop loving that if I tried because they are part of me. The miracle is that God has given me His eyes for them and in my moments of saying “she is mine” He has given me a glimpse of His heart for me.
So to all the moms out there who are cradling their little ones, or even their big ones, and wondering when you will stop feeling like a surrogate; to the mothers who are clumsily jostling their newborn for the first time and to those who are staring out over the expansive distance that has grown between themselves and that hard-to-parent teenager; your Heavenly Father sees you. And He is glorified by your trying, your pursuing, your loving. Love is a choice, and as we choose it, it grows. We keep choosing love and He keeps choosing us, and this, my friend, is the miracle.
My hope is that you will cherish God’s welcome invitation to know Him increasingly in answering the high calling that is motherhood. No matter how He has enabled you to be a mom, in marriage, in singleness, through foster care, through childbirth, as a mother of one, as a mother of many, keep being faithful to Him as you parent your children. He’s shaping them through you and He is shaping you through them.
And to all the mothers who have given their foster children to forever families but still have that child-shaped hole in their heart, to the mothers now called “birth mom” who have given their child into a better life out of love, to the mothers whose babies now rest in the arms of Jesus; thank you. You are brave, you are beautiful, and this day is for you, too.
Happy Mother’s Day to us!