girltalk Blog

Dec 11

A Letter to an “Expectant” Adoptive Mom

2013 at 9:56 am   |   by Nicole Whitacre Filed under Fun & Encouragement | Girltalkers | Motherhood | Adoption

A few days before Thanksgiving, I received a message from a soon-to-be adoptive mother with the good news that she and her husband had recently accepted a referral for a five-year-old boy in Ethiopia. She asked me for advice on bringing home an older child, as she already has several children at home. I thought I would share my letter with you.

Dear Friend,

I am thrilled to hear your news! Your message brought a smile to my face, because it was almost exactly two years ago that we first met our Jude and Sophie. We’ve been reminiscing a lot as a family this week and rejoicing in God’s goodness. I am so excited as I think of the joy you will soon experience as you welcome your new son into your family.

While I’m hesitant to offer adoption advice—after all, I am only one mother who has adopted two children less than two years ago—I am eager to pass along the wise counsel we received from our parents and godly adoptive parents that was of immeasurable help to our family. Here are a few very brief thoughts:

1. You won’t always be this tired. You will arrive home, jet-lagged from an international flight, fresh off one of the most emotional experiences of your life, with a child who needs moment by moment care and attention as he transitions to a new family, home, language, and culture. Not to mention that his sleeping pattern doesn’t correspond to this time zone, and that you have other children at home who need your love, care, and guidance through this new season. I didn’t even know it was possible to feel this tired (and I wasn’t a first time mom, either!). These were certainly the most exhausting days of my life, but also the most exhilarating. Jude and Sophie were finally here, in our family, wearing the clothes we had bought them and sleeping in the beds we had made. Sitting at our table. Holding our hands. Steve and I kept looking at each other like, “Can you believe it? They are really here!”

My counsel is first to pray for wisdom and strength, because you will desperately need both. Accept all offers of meals or house cleaning you receive. Keep things very simple (paper products from Costco are a great investment). Don’t plan on going anywhere for a while, except church and the doctor’s office. Enjoy these weeks of intense focus on your precious family. And remember that it won’t always be like this. You will feel rested again. Life will feel normal again. Just maybe not as soon as you expect.

2. Love to feel (and not the other way ‘round). Your task is challenging and glorious, but it is also clear: to love your child according to God’s Word. Lavish him with affection and encouragement. Serve him with cheerful sacrifice. And don’t waste time examining your emotions, worrying about how you feel, or grasping for an ideal experience. It was not hard to fall in love with my children, and you may feel an instant connection and deep bonds of love with your child; or your motherly emotions may come more slowly, as you love and sacrifice for your son. It helps to remember that our feelings are not the measure of true love or of the success of our adoption. In fact, by paying too much attention to how we feel, we can get tangled up in a mess of anxious wonderings that leave us feeling confused and distract us from genuinely loving our child. As C.S. Lewis wisely observed, “An obligation to feel can freeze feelings.” (HT: Sally Lloyd-Jones). The question is not: “Do I feel motherly love for this child?” but “How can I show motherly love to this child?” If we choose to love our children, we can be sure that loving feelings will follow.

3. Consistency is key. Steve and I wanted our children to feel safe and comfortable and to know what to expect from life in the Whitacre home. So we tried to be as consistent as possible in our speech, our habits, our affection, our rules, and in particular, our daily routine. As soon as they got home, we began to establish a general daily and weekly routine that paralleled what they were familiar with in Ethiopia. Following a simple daily schedule enabled us to stabilize as a family much faster than I expected. It didn’t take long before our children adjusted to the rhythm of life in our home and we were able to start adding activities such as sports or time with family and new friends. This may not be best for everyone, but it made a huge difference for our family’s peaceful transition.

One of the many blessings of adoption is that it can help you to become a better parent. You can’t take anything for granted and so you have to be more intentional and proactive. You have to listen more carefully, observe more closely, express your love more consistently, maintain your authority more clearly, and—in order to do all of these things—pray more intensely. Adopting an older child intensifies your focus on your family, which makes you a better parent to all of your children. In an age of distraction and the dissolution of the family, adoption can greatly strengthen your family bonds. This is a precious gift indeed.

4. Choose one thing and hold steady. Everything is new for our adopted children, so it doesn’t help to throw a bunch of new rules at them too. Together with your husband, consider what is most urgent or will most serve your child, and make this your one priority. For example, our son, Jude, really bucked the daily routine at first. When it was time to sit at the table for meals or coloring, he sat with both feet off to the side, ready to bolt. He threw fits at rest time and expressed strong disapproval (some things don’t take words!) when we wouldn’t let him watch TV until the end of the day. But we had decided that this was the one area where we were going to hold the line and begin to teach him to respond with joy to our loving, God-given, authority. We let many other things go for a while, but remained cheerfully resolute in this area. Today, Jude not only thrives on our daily routine, but is happy and obedient in so many other ways as well. I’ll be honest: there were many times I was tempted to give up. I wanted my new children to love me, or at least like me a little, and with my husband back at work, I was the primary enforcer. I needed a lot of encouragement from my husband and mom to persevere, but I’m so glad we did. Today Jude and Sophie cheerfully obey, and our bond is stronger as a result of having clear and loving boundaries in the home.

5. Take the long view. One of my greatest hopes was that all four of our children would become close friends. But things did not start off well at first. Jack and Jude couldn’t play together for more than five minutes without getting into an argument. They are both oldest boys, both used to taking care of a younger sister, both used to winning. After several months of what felt like constant arguing, I despairingly told my mom that I thought it would never get better. She encouraged me to be patient. Keep helping them. It takes time. And she was right: it took a good year or more. Today my sons are really good friends. Sure, they have the usual brotherly spats, but they also genuinely love and respect each other. It makes me so happy to hear them laughing in their bunk beds at night or to watch them play football in the backyard (and I don’t have to go out once!). So, resist the temptation to despair too quickly, as I did. Progress may seem painfully slow, and certain issues will always remain (as they do with all of us!), but if you patiently persevere, you will look back one day and be surprised at how much progress has been made.

6. Begin with the Bible. Adopted children, to one degree or another, have all experienced traumatic circumstances early in life, many unimaginably severe. My children probably experienced fewer traumas than most, so I am generally unqualified to speak on this topic. If your child struggles with significant trauma or extreme behavior, I would encourage you to seek advice from your pastor, medical professional, and if necessary, a biblically informed counselor. So I’m speaking very personally here, when I say that, for our family, we have been slow to psychologize, and have found that the best advice for parenting our adopted children is still plain, old-fashioned, biblical parenting advice. When I see my children as individuals, created in the image of God, with their own personality, strengths and weaknesses, and a life-history that has been sovereignly ordained by God, it helps me to be more sensitive and understanding of their weaknesses, and more hopeful for their future growth. On the other hand, when I have been quick to slap a label on a certain behavior or say, “that’s what adopted children do,” I tend to get off track. I begin to see the behavior as much more unique than it really is, and thus more difficult (or impossible) to resolve; and as a result I can easily grow irritated or discouraged. But many times I’ve had to laugh as I’ve described a “unique” adoption problem to my family, only to have them remind me of how I exhibited similar tendencies when I was a child.

7. Remember, you are a mother. When we first brought our children home from Ethiopia we took them out for injera and doro wat at a local Ethiopian restaurant. Our pediatrician had put us in touch with the proprietor, a lovely Ethiopian woman, who took the time to come to our table and talk to the children in Amharic. I asked her if she had any advice for me, thinking that she might share an important aspect of Ethiopian culture that she hoped I would pass on to our children. Her answer surprised me: “You are a mother, right? Then you have a mother’s instinct. You will know what to do.”

Of course, she was right. And her answer encapsulated the most helpful advice I have received from other parents. Adoption may be difficult or complicated at times, but it is also beautifully simple. You are adopting a child, a unique and precious human being, with his own experiences and difficulties, strengths and struggles, gifts and talents, joys and pains. And God has called you to be this child’s mother, which is both utterly daunting and yet entirely doable by the grace of God. As an adoptive mother, you are not outside God’s sovereign plan, Scripture’s wisdom, or the Holy Spirit’s help for this task. Remembering this—that adoption means I am a mother—brings it all into focus: all of the privileges and joys, all of the responsibility and commitment, all the confidence and the hope we have in God as parents.

It really is as simple and as wonderful as this: be his mother. That is my advice to you, and more importantly, Scripture’s counsel to you. God, the Father, models adopting love for us and through his Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ, we have been given all we need to be our children’s mother.

My friend, this letter is already too long. There is so much more I could say. But most of all I rejoice with you. Children are a heritage and a reward, and God has been mightily good to you and your family. I am praying for much peace, wisdom, blessing, and grace as you welcome this precious boy into your lives. I can’t wait to see pictures!

In Christ,

Nicole

Sep 9

The Answer to End All Questions

2013 at 1:50 pm   |   by Nicole Whitacre Filed under Biblical Womanhood | Spiritual Growth | Gospel | Motherhood | Adoption

My son Jude asks lots of questions. As I understand it, this is common for children who have been adopted when they are older, and I totally get it. New country. New language. New parents. I would ask a lot of questions too.

I am eager to answer Jude’s questions about his new world—as best I can anyway. Occasionally he stumps me with questions about how stuff works (“I haven’t a clue, Jude, ask your Dad!”) or like the other day when he asked me why people put up “yucky” Halloween decorations: “Honestly, Jude, that’s a great question, son, but I have never been able to understand that myself!”

As much as we want to satisfy Jude’s curiosity about his new life, we are also trying to teach him that he can trust us, his parents, to faithfully meet his needs. So sometimes, when he asks the same question over and over again, or asks about insignificant details he’ll find out in a few minutes anyway, I’ll provide the answer my parents often gave to me: “You’ll see.”

“Mommy what’s for dinner?”

“You’ll see.”

“Mommy, what store are we going to next?”

“You’ll see.”

“Mommy, how many more minutes until break time?”

“You’ll see.”

We have worked really hard to be consistent and predictable in our parenting; so while imperfect for sure, Jude knows by now that we will always feed him dinner, we will always come home after going out, and we will (almost) always take a break from school in the mid-morning.

But as I seek to teach Jude that he can trust us, I have begun to see, sadly, how little I sometimes trust my Savior. Jude’s incessant questioning is understandable for an eight-year-old boy nine months into a new life, but so often I ply my Heavenly Father with anxious questions, having nothing like Jude’s excuse.

“What are you doing next, Lord?”

“Where are you taking me?”

“When will this be over?”

I don’t just ask these questions once. I ask them over and over and over. And more often than not, God replies with the same answer I give Jude: “You’ll see.”

To be honest, I don’t always like that answer any more than Jude does. And yet when I grumble about God’s response, I fail to see the massive mercy behind it. “You’ll see” is a promise! A glorious promise, secured for me at the cross! I will see! Because I have been adopted into God’s family, through the atoning death of Jesus Christ on my behalf, I will one day see God.

“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:1-2 ESV).

I may not see everything today, but I see the Father’s love. And I have this confident and sure expectation that one day I will see Him as He is. And I will be like Him. Because of adoption, I see. And because of adoption, I will see. Oh joy!

So Jude, my son, I pray that one day you will see the love of the Father and rejoice in His answer to all your questions: “You’ll see!”

~from the archives

Feb 28

Today and Every Day After

2013 at 7:05 am   |   by Nicole Whitacre Filed under Motherhood | Adoption

One year ago today we brought Jude and Sophie out of the orphanage. We took them to lunch. We went to the Embassy to submit our final batch of paperwork. We had ice cream. We played soccer. We gave them baths and tucked them into bed.

chair biblechair biblechair biblechair bible

We were their parents. And we loved it.

And every day since that day, we love it even more.

In the past 365 days we’ve had lots of ice cream, played lots of soccer, given bubble baths and tucked them in each night.

Today we are more amazed than ever that our infinitely kind, creative, and generous Heavenly Father has blessed us with these beautiful children.

And we love that we will be Jude and Sophie’s parents, every day for the rest of our lives.

Feb 27

Adoption Anniversary

2013 at 9:15 am   |   by Nicole Whitacre Filed under Motherhood | Adoption

This is a big week in the Whitacre home. One year ago today Steve and I landed in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Tomorrow, February 28, we will celebrate “Gotcha Day”—the day we brought Jude and Sophie out of the orphanage. And Saturday marks the first anniversary of what we have declared “Whitacre Day”—the day our little family was finally all together, complete.

Before bringing Jude and Sophie home from Ethiopia, we asked a translator to tell them their new names. We got two sets of raised eyebrows, which are not a sign of skeptical surprise as in American culture, but rather an indication of strong approval. They liked their new names. (Many raised eyebrows later, we learned that they also liked pizza, chocolate, and swimming.)

Jude and Sophie’s names—like the children themselves—were chosen long before we met them. They express so much of what God has done in bringing them into our family.

We wanted to name our son Jude after my dad preached a series of messages on this short book of the Bible during the same month we applied to our adoption agency. Under attack from false teachers, Jude urges the believers in Christ to stand firm and put their hope in God “who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy” (Jude 24). We named “Jude” in praise to God for his sustaining grace in our lives, and as a prayer that our son will come to know our faithful God who is able to keep him to the end. Also, Jude’s name is a derivative of Judah, and the fact that “The Lion of Judah” graces Ethiopian currency is a small but significant reminder of his heritage. And Jude, eight-year-old boy that he is, likes that his name has something to do with a lion.

Sophia, of course, means wisdom. As I am fond of telling her: “I asked God for wisdom and he gave me Sophie.” Following the two difficult deliveries of our biological children, Steve and I were still desirous of having more children but were unsure if it was safe for me to risk my health and maybe even my life. There were many questions and no clear answers. This was a wisdom issue. But many Scriptures did apply, and when we asked, God was faithful to provide all the wisdom we needed in His Word and the counsel of doctors and other believers. “If any of you lacks wisdom,” it says in James, 1:5, “let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” Sophie’s name is a reminder of the wisdom God gave to us that led us to her, and I pray she will grow into her name and become a wise young woman who follows the Savior.

Recently, I looked out my window and saw Jude playing his own imaginary game of football (the American kind) in the backyard, complete with his own play-by-play. “Jude Whitacre scores!” he yelled triumphantly as he carried the football in for a touchdown. I really like the sound of that, son. I thought.

Jude and Sophie’s names express our praise to God and our prayers for their future. They also describe our first year together as a family. God has truly been faithful to sustain us and we marvel at his perfect wisdom in bringing these two precious children into our family.

We love you Jude and Sophie!

Dec 13

Adoption Day in Kentucky

2012 at 4:28 pm   |   by Nicole Whitacre Filed under Biblical Womanhood | 52home | Motherhood | Adoption

Jude and Sophie have been legally our children since that happy day in Addis over a year ago now, when the Ethiopian judge declared “They are yours.” Today we visited a court in the Commonwealth of Kentucky to finalize the stateside process.

“I’ve got three grown boys of my own,” the judge informed me. “Do you realize that motherhood isn’t just until they turn eighteen but for life?” she asked. “Yes.” I answered. “And do you want to be the mother of these two children for life?” she asked:

Huge smile. “Yes!”

Dec 12

Teaching Our Children the Gospel Started With Obedience

2012 at 11:25 am   |   by Nicole Whitacre Filed under Biblical Womanhood | Gospel | Motherhood | Adoption | Parenting Young Children

When we brought Jude and Sophie home—before we could even speak the same language—we had two simple priorities: show them we loved them, and teach them to obey.

The first one was easy. We said “I love you” non-stop in English and Amharic. We gave lots of hugs and kisses and smiles of approval. We bought new clothes and books and bikes. We took them sledding (a first!) and played legos and put together puzzles. We made it clear, through our actions and attention, that they were every bit as much our children as our biological son and daughter.

All these things were hugely important. In hindsight, though, I think they felt our love most of all through our gracious authority.

It didn’t feel that way at the time. To train them to obey we started with a few simple guidelines that were easy to understand: No TV until right before dinner (4:45 pm to be precise), no getting up from the table until being dismissed, and no hitting or biting.

They fought back at first—pouting about no TV or sitting at the table with their legs stretched out to the side, poised to bolt. Some days we were tempted to give up. Were we being to strict? Would they grow to hate us forever? What was the harm in letting them watch a little extra TV? But a well-timed word of encouragement from Mom always strengthened our resolve.

So we kept telling them “I love you” and put the remote out of reach.

A funny thing happened. Instead of becoming more resentful toward us and unhappy with the rules, Jude and Sophie became more compliant and obedient, and what’s more, they grew happier by the day.

Recently it dawned on me. One of the main reasons Jude and Sophie seem to have bonded with our family so quickly (in addition to the sheer grace of God!) is because the clear boundaries helped them feel like they belonged. They know the rules, the way things work around here. And so they feel comfortable because they aren’t on the outside trying to understand how this family works. They are “on the in” of the Whitacre family. Because they know what is required of them, they can relax and concentrate on other important things such as soccer and coloring and learning to read.

Don’t get me wrong, like every family, we have plenty of areas that need work. But this morning, as I write, Steve is downstairs going through our Advent devotional over breakfast. And tonight we will be able to sit down at the dinner table and talk and laugh as a family.

Now that they understand our words, and can sit still long enough to listen, we can tell them the greatest news of all: through Jesus Christ, they can join the family of God.

Obedience is the gateway to understanding the gospel.

“‘For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.’ It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:6-11 ESV).

Oct 9

The Answer to End All Questions

2012 at 11:17 am   |   by Nicole Whitacre Filed under Biblical Womanhood | Emotions | Spiritual Growth | Motherhood | Adoption | Parenting Young Children

My son Jude asks lots of questions. As I understand it, this is common for children who have been adopted when they are older, and I totally get it. New country. New language. New parents. I would ask a lot of questions too.

I am eager to answer Jude’s questions about his new world—as best I can anyway. Occasionally he stumps me with questions about how stuff works (“I haven’t a clue, Jude, ask your Dad!”) or like the other day when he asked me why people put up “yucky” Halloween decorations: “Honestly, Jude, that’s a great question, Son, but I have never been able to understand that myself!”

As much as we want to satisfy Jude’s curiosity about his new life, we are also trying to teach him that he can trust us, his parents, to faithfully meet his needs. So sometimes, when he asks the same question over and over again, or asks about insignificant details he’ll find out in a few minutes anyway, I’ll provide the answer my parents often gave to me: “You’ll see.”

“Mommy what’s for dinner?”

“You’ll see.”

“Mommy, what store are we going to next?”

“You’ll see.”

“Mommy, how many more minutes until break time?”

“You’ll see.”

We have worked really hard to be consistent and predictable in our parenting; so while imperfect for sure, Jude knows by now that we will always feed him dinner, we will always come home after going out, and we will (almost) always take a break from school in the mid-morning.

But as I seek to teach Jude that he can trust us, I have begun to see, sadly, how little I sometimes trust my Savior. Jude’s incessant questioning is understandable for an eight-year-old boy nine months into a new life, but so often I ply my Heavenly Father with anxious questions, having nothing like Jude’s excuse.

“What are you doing next, Lord?”

“Where are you taking me?”

“When will this be over?”

I don’t just ask these questions once. I ask them over and over and over. And more often than not, God replies with the same answer I give Jude: “You’ll see.”

To be honest, I don’t always like that answer any more than Jude does. And yet when I grumble about God’s response, I fail to see the massive mercy behind it. “You’ll see” is a promise! A glorious promise, secured for me at the cross! I will see! Because I have been adopted into God’s family, through the atoning death of Jesus Christ on my behalf, I will one day see God.

“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:1-2 ESV).

I may not see everything today, but I see the Father’s love. And I have this confident and sure expectation that one day I will see Him as He is. And I will be like Him. Because of adoption, I see. And because of adoption, I will see. Oh joy!

So Jude, my Son, I pray that one day you will see the love of the Father and rejoice in His answer to all your questions: “You’ll see!”

May 16

Adoption is Wonderful

2012 at 4:05 pm   |   by Nicole Whitacre Filed under Motherhood | Adoption

Yesterday at lunch, while eating leftovers from my first attempt at Ethiopian cooking, my son Jude told us stories of orphanage life. How the nannies washed all their clothes and shoes by hand and the water flowed like a rushing river over the orphanage ground. How the girls showered first in the mornings while the boys watched TV—but not on school days, mind you. How he loved to play soccer and tag with his friends. How at night, after the nannies had put them to bed and closed the doors, he and the other boys would get up and play, only to rush back to their beds when they heard the nannies coming. How he ate lots of macaroni and spaghetti.

This morning I cuddled with Sophie after she woke up and discovered that her feet are very ticklish. This little girl is full of life and joy, so different from how quiet and clingy she was in the orphanage and our first few weeks at home. Sophie charges into a room with a yell and has absolutely no concept of “inside voice.” I instruct her a lot about using an “inside voice,” but recently it got lost in translation. I told her I would give her a drink once we got “inside” and she thought I meant to ask for the drink in an “inside voice” and so repeated her request in a whisper. Oh well.

Right now as I type, the four kids are running around like crazy downstairs because it is Daddy’s day off. As my husband recently wondered: how is it that twice as many children make more than twice as much noise? Already, it is hard to imagine what our family was like without these two precious children. I am so grateful to all of you for your prayers and encouragement along the way.

That’s all I have to say. Just, thanks. And that adoption really is wonderful.