As an adoptive family, major meltdowns have become a normal part of our lives. Although they might not be daily (anymore), they are still frequent. For some reason, I’m still shocked by the behavior. Each time it cuts me open again, as if it’s never happened before.
In our most recent encounter with trauma, I went into the situation thinking that I was a seasoned pro. I most certainly had it under control. I waited patiently. I remained calm, even in the face of disrespect and hurtful words. But when my prescribed actions didn’t work and it seemed that we were seemingly getting nowhere, it became too much. I gave in to unhelpful parenting methods, like yelling and threatening unrealistic consequences. Then my frustration escalated as I was no longer just angry with my child; I was angry with myself.
After saying many regretful things, I slammed the door behind me and headed for a walk wearing my white, shiny Wal-mart sandals. They were falling off the back of my feet as I stomped down the street in true elephant form. I’m sure my makeup was smeared from the tears. I could feel my face all scrunched-up like a four-year-old when they are forced to share their favorite toy. I felt out of control and like a failure.
As I turned around at the end of our street, I could finally see something other than my cheap sandals and feel something other than my overwhelming anger–a shift that only God himself could have provided. Like he has countless other times on this journey.
In 2017, my husband and I started the process of becoming licensed foster parents. By 2019, two of our three beloved placements joined our family forever. As is the case with all children who have entered foster care, my children have experienced unthinkable trauma which often results in difficult behaviors and emotional turmoil.
The summer of 2019 was the hardest season of our journey so far. Each day I woke up unsure if I was going to encounter anger, fear, extreme silliness, manipulation, or a handful of other behaviors fueled by the trauma that wasn’t their fault. Of course, all of the behaviors made sense given all of the hardship they had to endure in their short life. But that didn’t change the fact that our current season felt unrelenting and isolating. In the midst of all of this I was convinced that this hard season would never end, that God would never release me from it, and that redemption was impossible.
During this hard season, I was dead-set on wanting answers and solutions. I wanted God to fix my circumstances, to heal our family, to make it all easier and more enjoyable. I was angry that I didn’t see any fruit from my suffering, that my hard season was for nothing. There was no immediate change, renewal, or healing happening. I was impatient and I wanted to see the “after.” But God kept pointing me to the “now.” He showed me that, as always, I didn’t need a change of circumstances. I needed a change of heart. A change of heart that desires more of him–his presence, his love, his companionship. I’ve never been more thankful for unanswered prayer.
His instead-answers have been life-giving and life-changing.
I ask for it to be over. He fills me with compassion instead.
I tell him I can’t do it anymore. He gives me strength and tells me that I can.
I implore him why do we have to enter into these broken places anyway? He sweetly whispers that brokenness is where we can find him.
I beg him to change it or fix it or just DO SOMETHING. He changes me, fixes me, and shows me where he’s already doing something. He is redeeming and restoring lives–and it’s not just the lives of my children, though he is certainly doing that too. He’s redeeming and restoring me.
I ask him where the good is in all of this. He shows me every time my children say “I love you” or “look at me!” or “Hey, mom!”
It seems that, instead of giving me what I want in the moment, God “gives me a new heart, and puts a new spirit in me. He takes out my stony, stubborn heart and gives me a tender, responsive heart.” (Ezekiel 36:26). When I release control and trust him through prayer, he replaces my stream of consciousness with a stream of compassion and grace. Entering into the brokenness of foster care and adoption has brought me to a place of complete reliance on the only one who can change, restore, heal, and renew my situation–the only one who can change, restore, heal, and renew me.
I sometimes wonder if this is why God calls us into hard, broken places–to pull us into his presence.
If we never enter into brokenness, difficulty, injustice, poverty, and oppression, our deceitful hearts will start to believe that we have it all together and that we don’t need him.
So he gently nudges us toward the poor and needy to open up our eyes to our own poverty and neediness. Our love for Christ increases as our need increases. What if we entered into needy places–or chose suffering–in order to increase our love for Christ? What if the key to deeper union with Jesus is deeper union with the hurting? What if the need that arises from companionship with the lowly is the catalyst of change in our walks with the Lord, for our desire to read his Word, for our zeal in prayer?
Our hope is not found in the end of a hard season and the start of an easy one. The “end” of our hard season was met with the beginning of a different kind of hard season.
Hope and peace and many other good things are found not in the absence of brokenness, difficulty, and hardship, but in the presence of them. Maybe there’s a better, more beautiful path paved because of this hard season? Maybe that is enough to get us on our feet and ready to face a new, hard day because there is one who has already faced it for us?
Karly Pancake is a follower of Jesus, wife to TJ Pancake, and mom to two beautiful loves. They are foster parents who have adopted their two children through foster care. Whether you’re considering foster care or adoption, you’re in the trenches, or you’re a supporter of foster and adoptive families, Karly wants to be an encourager for you to keep going! She writes at We Foster Truth.