Tag Archives: adoption

Movie: Change of Plans

 

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Watching Change of Plans on YouTube brought on a myriad of emotions in me. The movie is about a DINKs (dual income, no kids) couple who are well set in their life and careers suddenly being confronted with the reality of caring for their friend’s four kids on her death, three of whom had already been adopted once by the friend. Overnight, they had to stepp into this arena, with absolutely no parenting skills and with no real understanding of trauma or appreciation for the need for stability or permanency for the children. They were forced to step into this parenting journey only because there was a sudden need but with the condition that it was an interim temporary arrangement. Not to give away too much, I’ll admit that it was a heartwarming, Hallmark-ish movie with a happily ever after ending. A rare, clean, family movie, definitely worth the watch.

Tears streamed down my face as I sat in the dark watching it as it hit so near home. My husband and I had great careers with only upward potential when we were suddenly confronted with the need for a family for a traumatized six year old child who had tragically lost his mother in Bangalore, India. We were living in NJ and working in NYC, the hub of power and success. Most of our siblings, relatives and friends had great jobs and careers and comfortable lives. Strong STEM education had led to high success jobs for most of them and it was easy to see that living the American dream was the goal all around us. If we were to do this, we would literally become the odd ones out giving up an amazing future in exchange for an unknown, broken child’s life. We had to prayerfully make the decision in one day – a decision which would literally turn the entire course of our lives upside down! One that would force us to lose the American dream and more importantly, one that would also force us to depend on God alone to provide for our every need. Even our son’s own biological relatives were unwilling to make that choice – it should have been the extended family’s  moral obligation to provide the love and safety of home and family for the newly orphaned kids.

The American Dream versus Orphan Care – a very tough choice to make! It was a decision that would throw us into a form of isolation as we now would be in a separate socio-economic strata of society too. We wouldn’t have money to go on vacations like the rest of our peers, we wouldn’t be able to send our kids with ease to private schools or for many extracurricular classes growing up, we couldn’t easily afford the cars or the lifestyle that we saw all around us. All this was a consequence of our choices! Soon after our adoption, we found our non-English speaking, traumatized son reeling. I was confronted with making the choice of giving up my budding career as a Senior Business Analyst at a large pharmaceutical company to stay home with our  son. A few years down the road, my husband had to make the choice literally overnight to throw away a blossoming career in Executive Management in the tech sector in NYC to move three thousand miles across the country to a job at Microsoft way below his level, not even in his area of expertise at less than half the salary, just so he could be more available to help our struggling kids, particularly our son who had PTSD and RAD which was devastating him and our family. My husband’s career never recovered from then on as the corporate world is always suspicious of such changes – for who would deliberately choose this downward path when climbing the ladder of success is the goal of life? It isn’t easy even today when men’s conversations automatically gravitate towards ambition, achievement, career success, as well as financial ease and comfort for their families as they move towards retirement knowing that those dreams cannot be ours.

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So, it was heartwarming to see the couple in the movie making the deliberate choice to give up significant career opportunities to joyfully care for the sibling group of orphaned kids, considering the kids’ lives worth more than their own booming careers! Yes, such major life choices can impact lives eternally! It might be a rare phenomenon in Hollywood but it can be a more common choice for a Christian family. This calling is not just for a select few but for all who are called by God’s name. James 1:27: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to care for widows and orphans in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” Yet most often, by default we turn away from this and other such sacrificial, yet impactful life callings and gravitate instead towards the comfort and temporary steadiness of the American Dream!

Just like the couple in the movie, my husband and I also had absolutely no parenting skills but we had willing hearts. We had no external resources to guide us nor did we have family nearby who could teach us and support us on this incredibly difficult journey. I would often look at friends who appeared to be such amazing parents and wished we could be like them. Within a span of six months, we ended up being parents to two kids, a six year old son and a ten month old daughter. Additionally, our son was so traumatized and angry that he was constantly passive aggressive, especially with me, as he was living with PTSD and RAD. You can only imagine our parenting chaos! Our daughter was affected living with her own life losses as well as living under his trauma for years. Following in their shadows, the only life our youngest, biological daughter grew up with was trauma related living under the brokenness of her two older siblings. We struggled deeply as we often did not have the faintest idea on how to parent these kids God had entrusted us with. Again, we felt like fools for years because despite wanting to be good parents and despite sacrificing so much for these kids, even probably putting in far more effort than most of our parent peers, we were constantly failing. The first parental validation we received was fourteen years into our journey at the first Refresh Conference for Foster and Adopted Parents that we attended five years ago. We have since learned that adoption is a journey of deep loss make no it an excruciatingly hard journey with no happily ever after. Yet, our calling was to continue faithfully parenting in love, absorbing their pain and suffering on ourselves, just as God does for us. Here’s an encouraging video for parents who have chosen to be on this hard journey – You Are Not Alone! 

Change of Plans showed some of the resistance and real life struggles with the kids’ adjustment, but overall it came across as a fictional feel good movie with all problems sorted out in an hour, ending with smiles and happily ever afters. But life isn’t scripted in Hollywood. In real life, since adoption is built on real trauma and loss, it is often fueled by loss of control, anger, rage, lying, hoarding, even violence. The kids often have huge physical, spiritual, emotional and intellectual needs which require a sacrificial investment of time, energy, resources, money, etc by the parents to just keep them going. We’ve also learned that more than the best, most loving parental efforts, the life losses and suffering faced by adopted kids are so deep that only Jesus can truly fill the void in their hearts to heal and make them whole! The same holds true for adoptive parents who’ve had to lay it all down and often have to go through life without the desired parenting results – only Jesus can give us hope!

So unlike in the movie, life may not turn out Hallmark style with the happily ever after…….but God tells us that it’s still worth it to sacrificially follow in Jesus’ footsteps! Our guarantee of a happily ever after is in heaven!

The verses in 2 Corinthians 4:7-17

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies…….. So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison…..

Every person who has experienced adoption by their Heavenly Father can joyfully make such painful, sacrificial choices daily because they have a guarantee of eternity with all the glory and riches of life with God to look forward to for all eternity!

 

Anne of Green Gables

I devoured the Anne of Green Gables book series when I was a mere fourth grader in Sophia Girls High School in Bangalore, India! I could not put them down, even going after school between library days to get the next book in the series. I was after all following in my Mom’s footsteps as she had recounted to me how amazing the story was. Lucy Maud Montgomery writes a vivid, beautiful, heartfelt tale of a little orphan girl’s life as she blossoms into womanhood with love, intelligence, character and wit! I absolutely loved it and re-read it many times over!

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In the mid 90s, after immigrating to the US, I had the opportunity to get the video series from our local library in Paramus, New Jersey and was absolutely fascinated. It was awe-inspiring to see the vivid descriptions come to life as Anne lived her exciting life out with full drama on the exquisitely beautiful Prince Edward Island. Megan Follows acted wonderfully bringing to life the character of the little orphan girl who grew up before our very eyes on screen. She displayed the charm, wit and intelligence that Ms. Montgomery had woven into Anne’s character, giving many a young girl the dream of living life to the fullest, just like her. Even more was the desire to bring up a daughter just like her! I definitely fell in love with Anne Shirley as a kid and dreamed of the day I could visit her home on Prince Edward Island in Canada. It intrigued me even more for my middle name is Anne too and I always imagined (with the flattery of Anne) that my Mom had named me after reading this amazing story! Yes, I am an ANN with an E!

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Even as a young girl, visiting Shishu Bhavan (Mother Theresa’s orphanage in Bangalore) always touched a cord deep in my soul – I just knew I wanted to help those precious children. But, orphan care was even more etched into my brain and heart after I read and then saw the beauty of family enfold in this precious little girl’s life. I saw the impact that even a very unlikely family like Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, an older brother and sister duo, could have on a vulnerable little girl’s life. I watched as she longed and waited for a feeling of permanency even if it meant just working hard to serve a family as an unpaid maid – the setting of the book clearly showed how little she was valued as a person in society, she was just another unworthy orphan girl! I saw the fear and sadness in little Anne as she faced the uncertainty of a future with the Cuthberts – something I have taken for granted with the expected permanency of my family. I saw Anne willing to do anything so she could just stay with them – yet failing miserably repeatedly as her angst at being looked down on as a “red head” caused her to blow up many a time! It was real and funny, yet taught us many important life lessons. She was modest and boisterous, sufficiently aloof to be desired yet bold enough to face the world on her own. Anne through her stay with the Cuthberts had the opportunity and the tools to hold life by the horns and face it with grace and dignity coming through as a winner! She chose not to mope about her past misfortune but to focus on her future hope! Anne took on the young men of her generation and pummeled forward making a mark on her world as well as on the hearts of many of her readers and viewers. Anne Shirley was an incredible role model for young girls for generations to come!

Anne of Green Gables was one more piece of the puzzle of my desire to adopt one day. The series gave me a glimpse of the beauty of adoption (though technically, Anne was permanently fostered by the Cuthberts). At that stage, I hadn’t even comprehended the eternal and awesome beauty of God adopting me into His family through Jesus with a promise of living with Him in His heavenly home as His precious and beloved adopted daughter forever. That truth eventually did seal the deal for me, leading my husband and me to adopt an older child! And God in His Grace brought the adoption of our son to fruition for His glory too! As I look back on Anne’s story and my son’s story, I see gratitude being the basis for living life well – gratitude to God first and then gratitude to parents. I also saw the reality of the privilege of teaching a child about the God who loves and cares for her when she came not knowing about Him at all. I saw the beauty and the privilege of changing the course of a hope-less orphan child’s life when she was given the status of foster daughter! Anne lived a full life of joy and grace bouncing off that true heartfelt gratitude! Well done Lucy M. Montgomery!

Of course this is yet another fictional, happily ever after story – those are the ones that catch our attention and fill us with awe and wonder. But, life doesn’t always follow art; the reality of caring for orphaned and vulnerable children has shown us that gratitude is hard fought for. That kids who were orphaned often struggle with loss, brokenness, trauma and lack of control which turns their worlds upside down. It takes an act of God through Jesus’ death to redeem them, and then fill them with a His value, joy, forgiveness and purposes which then takes them into the fullness of life! In fact, every one of us can relate for we are all spiritual orphans who need redemption from our Heavenly Father and only through that hope we can live purposefully for His glory! Just like Anne longed to live on Prince Edward Island, we too long for the beauty of Heaven – her adoption by the Cuthberts allowed that to happen just like ours will happen through Jesus!

I have introduced this book series and TV series to my children because it’s a beautiful story of redemption and hope! In fact, much to my delight, my family bought me the DVD set just this past Christmas! I love it! If you haven’t ventured into Anne’s world, it’s never too late!

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Here are a few opinions to add voices to mine: Eight writers on how Anne shaped a generation of young women.

Adoption Destroyed Birthdays For Me

Realization hit me recently that I have rarely been able to celebrate birthdays in our family. It was not so when I was growing up – I used to love birthdays and my brother and I usually had a combined party each year with school or neighborhood friends, and we had family celebrations with my grandparents and extended family in Bangalore. But surreptitiously, life had taken me in a different direction. And now, yeas later, I was sitting on my bed on my son’s 25th birthday, filled with a deep sense of sadness and grief instead of overwhelming joy. This got me thinking and looking back on our journey as a family. I wondered why I, who loved doing big celebrations, had so rarely organized birthday parties for my kids? I have had huge dedication, baptism, graduation and wedding parties – yet we’ve had very few birthday celebrations. Our children are now aged 25, 19 and 12 – that would add up to 50 birthday celebrations (discounting the first 6 years of our son’s birthdays that we missed)! Yet, we can count the birthday parties we hosted with our fingers. In fact, we celebrated just two out of the twelve birthdays even for our youngest biological daughter.  Why?

It all started unraveling when I recently heard a friend wish her daughter on her birthday, telling her she was thinking of the time when she was giving birth to her. In that moment, my heart broke within me – it felt like the damn broke and years of my pain was being unleashed. It wasn’t her fault – she was doing what every normal mother would do – reminiscing at the beauty of the time when her precious baby was born. But to me, that day, her words were a stark reminder of the loss my children and I have faced daily – the loss of not being together from the start and the unusual way in which our family was built layered with pain, trauma and suffering. We never experienced the joy of our two older kids’ births or the tenderness of the early years, and instead, were hit full force with the consequences of their trauma and loss when we adopted them.

Over the past 19 years, their birthday months were triggers, causing them to subconsciously fight the loss of their birth families. They were days when their anger peaked and their frustrations were leveled against me. That was understandable, for I had replaced their beloved birth mothers who had cradled them when they were born, but it hurt nevertheless. Both of my adopted children came with deep wounds. My son came home broken and traumatized at age 6, after the mother he had loved deeply and had bonded with, took her life. My daughter came home to us as a 10-month old baby, having had the privilege of being carried and nursed by her birth mother for her first few months at the orphanage. Both these women had made profound impacts on my children’s hearts, and losing them had caused deep grief and brokenness that I cannot even imagine. Consequently, my children were filled with anger, rage and frustration against me – their birth parent’s replacement. 

Looking back, we know without a shadow of doubt that God brought these children to our family. But unfortunately, due to deep-set cultural prejudices and biases, as well as a lack of teaching on the beauty of adoption, many Indians have not fully embraced our children’s’ adoption. For example, to this day despite our pleas, my older daughter’s birthday seems to be invisible to my husband’s family. These differences hurt deeply and these hurts get reopened every year, and it makes me dread birthdays because I have to find ways to balance these added pains in my children’s hearts. 

So what is the solution to this dilemma? I am in pain during every birthday in my family, I am grieving the losses of not being the one who birthed my children and loved them from the start. I am angry that people discriminate against my kids. I have struggled to be in the shadow of “ghosts” who loom large in their lives. But, I am their “Amma” , “Mom”, “Maiee”! That will never change. God opened my eyes to His mission of orphan care when I was still a child and there was no turning back (that is a story for another post)! I have chosen to step into this role and have borne much of my children’s grief and anger at their losses, ever since we adopted them in 1998. The warrior princess in me comes out, as I fight to love and protect my hurting family!

These are vulnerable children who were wounded due to no fault of their own. But, God chose my husband and me to love them, and in the process just as our parents did, we get to redirect the trajectory of their lives towards Him! In other words, the children we had adopted had totally different backgrounds and DNA from us, and we had the privilege of loving them and making them our very own beloved son and daughter. Then we got to give them the privilege of being co-heirs with our biological child, and far more importantly, to introduce all three of them to Jesus through whom they could all become God’s adopted children, co-inheriting all God’s riches for all eternity with Jesus should they choose to do so! Mind blowing truth! Worth celebrating! 

So, yes birthdays are still excruciatingly hard, and yes, my family may never have normalcy and beauty around those days – but the path we have chosen to take with our children is worth it. As Jason Johnson has said, “Adoption isn’t swooping in to save a hurting child with a cape on our backs but it is crawling in the mud alongside their brokenness, with a cross on our backs”! Beauty and brokenness are intertwined in every aspect of our lives. This is the gospel in action! We love because God first loved us (1 John 4:19). Similarly we can say that we adopt because God first adopted us! Adoption was not an afterthought for God, but His Plan A! God chose not to stop at just saving us, but to adopt us as His sons and daughters before the foundation of the world! So, though we lose out on birthday celebrations, and in our human-ness we struggle and feel deep sorrow and grief, we also look ahead to the eternal glory that is awaiting us, when every tear will be wiped away, and there will be joy everlasting and we will be celebrating Jesus all the time forever! 

So practically, how do we celebrate birthdays in our family? We do small family celebrations with my parents, where we cut a cake and a have special meal. They always lovingly give our kids a gift and Pattima (grandma) usually prays over them. On my end, I may not be able to celebrate that day in a big way for them or with them, but I hope that all my countless acts of love throughout the year show them that I love them deeply. That we are blessed despite what life throws at us! My husband created a small family tradition called the “birthday stool” where he makes the birthday child sit on a special stool while the rest of us stand around that person. We lay hands on them and each of us prays a blessing over him or her. This is our way of asking God to bless them in the midst of all our brokenness and mess. A huge blessing to us is when others, friends or family, call and wish them on their birthday, or step out and give them a special gift, or take them for a meal or cut a cake to celebrate their special day.  It means so much to this tired mama’s heart! It is a gift from the hand of God, compensating for my inability to celebrate their birthdays. My gratitude to God overflows.

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans in their distress (James 1:27).

And as far as my guilt goes, yes, mommy guilt prevails in my heart and yes, I grieve that my children have missed so much but God is slowly teaching me to focus on what He thinks is important – that we can find joy in the journey in Him and through Him. And, we look forward to unending celebrations in eternity with Him!

For another look at this, see: https://www.goodreads.com/author_blog_posts/7630205-parenting-kiddos-who-sabotage-big-days