issue no. 12 | Fall 2020
an alumni publication of L i f e l i n e C h i l d r e nâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s S e r v i c e s
The Whole Life Adoption Book by Jayne E. Schooler & Thomas C. Atwood This book offers encouragement and insight for any family in the adoption journey. Chapter 11 specifically addresses talking to your children about their adoption story.
Families Change: A Book for Children Experiencing Termination of Parental Rights by Julie Nelson All families change over time. Sometimes a baby is born, or a grown-up gets married. And sometimes a child gets a new foster parent or a new adopted mom or dad. Children need to know that when this happens, it’s not their fault. They need to understand that they can remember and value their birth family and love their new family, too. Straightforward words and full-color illustrations offer hope and support for children facing or experiencing change.
The Invisible String by Patrice Karst The Invisible String is a very simple approach to overcoming the fear of loneliness or separation with an imaginative flair that children can easily identify with and remember. “People who love each other are always connected by a very special string, made of love.”
Revealing You: A Journal for Birthmothers by Michelle Thorne Crafted for birth mothers, Revealing You offers a space for birth mothers to share their honest thoughts and feelings as they process making an adoption plan. This journal would be a wonderful gift for your child’s birth mother.
July 15, 2020 – Helping Women Face Unplanned Pregnancy Without Fear featuring Deanna Jewell, senior director of health & client services at The Pregnancy Network.
October 30, 2019 – Adoption Through the Eyes of an Adoptee & Adoptive Mother Adoptee, adoptive mother, and longtime child welfare advocate, Sharri Black, shares what it is like to be adopted.
July 31, 2019 – A Calling to Domestic Adoption and Caring for Birth Parents Lifeline’s Vice President of Operations, Blake Wilson, shares about his and his wife’s calling to domestic adoption and what sets Lifeline’s ministry apart through providing holistic care for both birth and adoptive parents.
A Letter from Herbie PRESIDENT & EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
The year 2020 is not what anyone would have expected with masks, social distancing, lockdowns, travel restrictions, unemployment and complete unpredictability. Every sector of life and portion of the planet is impacted by COVID-19, but certainly, not all are affected equally. Though this season extended much longer than anyone could anticipate, we’ve seen how God is sovereign in all His ways and indeed sustains His children — not only because He loves us, but because He knows what each day will hold (Psalm 139:16). Throughout this unknown, unplanned, and unimaginable time we can look back and see the powerful hand of God sustaining His ministry. At Lifeline, the Lord has provided continually — financially, physically, emotionally, and logistically. For instance, while working remotely, the Lord sustained us and helped keep things moving so that our counselors could enter into hospitals to support the expectant women with whom we work. This spring was one of the busiest domestic adoption years since the late 80s for Lifeline, and this is due in part to abortions being limited or halted in many states. Also, we managed to continue training, equipping, and processing home studies, thanks to a healthy dose of Zoom. Other Lifeline programs grew exponentially including Parent Coaching, Bridge Educational Services, and Counseling, as these services are essential to families and children. As many families became first-time homeschool parents, we have been able to stand in the gap to equip them and their children educationally, spiritually, and emotionally. The Lord, in His abundant wisdom, led us to start these programs before COVID-19, having no idea of the help they would provide during an unprecedented pandemic. Still, in many ways, today and tomorrow are still extremely unknown and unpredictable. From the hit to our local and national economy, to halted international travel causing delays in adoption processes, to our children returning to school (online or in the classroom), to family members or friends being hospitalized from an invisible enemy called COVID-19, the coming months and years are becoming increasingly hard to plan for and strategize. However, we will trust in the Lord because we know the need for our work is greater than ever. We know He will sustain us because He is the Father to the fatherless and the Defender of the vulnerable. As we look ahead to 2021, one thing is sure. We will celebrate the 40th anniversary of Lifeline’s founding. Lifeline began as a ministry to women in
unexpected pregnancies. It was created as the “discipleship companion” of a pregnancy resource center. Lifeline was built to bring the sustaining truth of the gospel to women in need and offer them a hope for their life as well as the life of their child. In 2003, one of the tools the Lord used to draw and lead my wife, Ashley, and I to Lifeline was her position at Sav-A-life and a relentless passion for vulnerable women and children. Our own dinner table became a prayer room where we lifted up the needs of those most vulnerable. It was such a distinct honor, but also a challenging endeavor, to step into a hands-on ministry committed not just to adoption, but to discipleship of children and families in the gospel. This type of ministry is long and messy, but when used by the Lord, reaps a bountiful harvest. In this issue of Journey, we’ll focus on pregnancy counseling. You’ll hear from a birth mother who confidently placed her child into a loving family, knowing it was the way God would sustain both her baby girl and her own life. You’ll also read about Lifeline’s beginnings and how the Pregnancy Counseling team has developed and grown over the years. We hope you learn helpful tips through the articles “Ways to Show Love to Your Child’s Birth Parents” and “Opening the Doors of Conversation” which offer insight into how to minister to your child’s birth parents as well as how to talk to your child about his birth parents. As we reflect on this extreme privilege and humbling task of sharing gospel hope with birth mothers, we truly step into being pro-life — caring not just for the unborn baby, but for the woman carrying him. Would you pray with us in this task? Pray that more women would find Lifeline in their time of need. Pray that we can magnify the hope found only in Christ. Pray that we will be sustained financially, so that we can continue to do this work. Finally, please know we are praying for you — as you find ways to honor and love your child’s birth parents, navigate this season, and seek out ways to be pro-life in all you do. In Him,
Herbert M. Newell IV President/Executive Director
Journey L I F E L I N E C H I L D R E N ’ S S E RV I C E S 100 Missionary Ridge Birmingham, Alabama 35242 Phone: 205.967.0811 Website: lifelinechild.org
EDITORIAL JENNY RIDDLE Contributing Editor
NEISHA ROBER TS Editor
MEMORY SMITH Layout & Design
SK VAUGHN Marketing Director TAYLOR GATLIN Contributing Editor SHANE ETHEREDGE Art Director
CONTRIBUTORS Lynn Beckett, Neisha Roberts, Jenny Riddle, Laura Armstrong, Caitlin Estes, MK Barber, & Traci Newell
W H AT I S J O U R N E Y ? Journey is an alumni publication dedicated to our families that have been through the adoption or foster care process. This is a way to stay in touch with Lifeline’s ministry, to celebrate along with other families through milestones and stories, and to encourage your walk with Christ and the well-being of your family in the days ahead!
W H AT WO U L D YO U L I K E T O S E E I N YO U R N E X T I S S U E ? We love hearing from you! Send us what you would love to read about in the next issue of Journey to email@example.com.
M E E T O U R C OV E R FA M I LY Jeff and Alisa’s family, along with birth mother, Symone, couragously share their story of domestic adoption on page 10.
FA L L 2 0 2 0
ROOTS OF RECONCILIATION
CONNECT. SEE. PARTNER.
HOW GOD MOVES OVER TIME
WAYS TO SHOW LOVE TO YOUR CHILDâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;S BIRTH PARENTS
BIRTH FAMILY, FOSTER FAMILY, FOREVER FAMILY
Welcome Home RICKMAN FAMILY Costa Rica
KINARD FAMILY Brazil
HATCH FAMILY Domestic
PERRY FAMILY Domestic
BRYAN FAMILY Haiti
CISCO FAMILY Bulgaria
LOTT FAMILY Domestic -4-
Milestones The Lawton Family joyfully welcomed a 3-year-old little boy to their family through their first full-time foster care placement.
Leo Henderson, 3, came home in December 2019, and recently went on his first family vacation to the beach.
Mark Harrelson, 6, came home in 2019 and he recently started school!
RO OT S O F R E C O N C I L I AT I O N L I F E L I N E ’ S S T A R T A S A M I N I S T RY T O E X P E C T A N T M O T H E R S by Neisha Roberts
t was the 1970s and Roe v. Wade recently had led to the legalization of abortion across the United States. In Alabama, gospel evangelist Wales Goebel was working with troubled teens and saw the weight of the pro-life, prochoice legal controversy play out before his eyes. Not long after that monumental case, Wales founded Sav-A-Life, the first crisis pregnancy resource center in Alabama, where women could take a free pregnancy test, hear about the development of their baby, be shown the gospel, and empowered to choose life. But there was something missing. Young women in unexpected pregnancies would find the center, decide to choose life for their baby and receive help, but didn’t know where to turn after that. What if they didn’t feel equipped to parent? What if they wanted to know more about this “Father to the fatherless” and wanted to give their baby a safe, loving, Christian family through adoption? At the time, there was very much a stigma and shame associated with unplanned pregnancies. If a woman chose to give birth, she was often either left to fend for herself in raising the baby or forced to relinquish her rights and have no real way of knowing where the baby went or how the adoptive parents would care for her child. Adoption was not an option that many women knew about, and there were not ethical practices in place. Sometimes it was a lonely and dark process, even in choosing life. It was actually through an article in the Birmingham News that the Lord connected Wales with John Carr, a social worker serving at a children’s home at the time. The two dreamed of creating a ministry for women for the long haul, so if they chose life for their baby, they would not feel alone. Licensed in September 1981, Lifeline Children’s Services® was established as a Christian adoption agency and discipleship ministry — built to walk with women through a crisis pregnancy and into plans for theirs and their baby’s future. Renee Griffin, one of the first Lifeline staff hired in 1982, explained, “Our heart was to offer the truth of the gospel to these women, but also offer them options. If they chose to parent, we wanted to equip them to do so. If they wanted to place their baby for adoption, we wanted to make sure we had Christian families lined up. This was not about just saving babies. We walked with these women and supported them.” Within the next few years, Lifeline discovered new ways to minister to women, one being through shepherding homes — where a woman could stay with a Christian family as she progressed through her pregnancy. This was one way the local church stepped in to support women in need. By 1984, that concept led to Lifeline’s first maternity home, Lifeline Village, built in Thorsby. It later moved to Pell City, and then Tuscaloosa, where it exists today. There, women receive housing, physical care, life skills education, and emotional and spiritual support before and after the birth of their child. Throughout the rest of the 80s “there were many women who wanted to place their babies for adoption,” recalled Renee, who served in various capacities for almost three decades at Lifeline before retiring in September 2020. With a team of less than 10 at the time, each staff member took an all-hands-on deck approach, so “you didn’t work for Lifeline if you weren’t involved in birth mother ministry in some way,” Renee explained. Although the process and department structure has transformed over the years, the roots of Lifeline very much remain the same today. Christie Mac Segars, Lifeline’s Vice President of Domestic Ministries, shared, “We still want women
to hear and experience the gospel of Jesus and empower them to make a life decision. We always provide options counseling so “I HEAR YOU SAY YOU FEEL WORTHLESS BEC AUSE she’s empowered to make a good choice for herself and her baby. We may also YOU’VE MADE A MISTAKE. BUT I’M HERE TO TELL YOU, provide financial and tangible help, but in a I’M NO BETTER. THE ONLY DIFFERENCE BETWEEN YOU way that sets her up for long-term success.” AND ME IS THAT I HAVE HOPE. AND I’D LOVE TO TELL Other aspects of care include connecting women with a local church, finding safe YOU WHERE YOU CAN FIND THAT HOPE.” housing, helping secure a job or helping - LIFELINE STAFF MEMBER TO BIRTH MOTHER with resources to earn a GED, or finding a parenting class. The variety of resources reflect the variety of women that come through Lifeline’s to encourage birth moms in all phases of their journey. doors — 12-year-olds to women in their 40s. Married, single, Email firstname.lastname@example.org. divorced, all socio-economic levels and ethnicities. • Participate in Sanctity of Human Life on January 17, Now operating in eight states, there are 23 staff 2021, the closest Sunday to the anniversary of the members devoted to Lifeline’s pregnancy counseling Roe v. Wade case. Use this day to remember the ministry. In 2019, Lifeline walked with 539 women through lives lost through abortion and to stand up for life. unexpected pregnancies. Visit lifelinechild.org/lifematters for free resources for This work does not function without its fair share of weight, your church to use. though. Christy Harmon, Lifeline’s Director of Pregnancy As Renee reflected back on the decades of memories with Counseling, shared how it is a “ministry of reconciliation.” Lifeline, she said, “In some ways it’s not much different “We see women in difficult life situations and if we’re not today than it was back when we first started. We hold the careful we can take on the responsibility for a good decision gospel paramount and since we’re all no different in our on our shoulders. But if we’re responsible for the outcome, sin, we hold tightly to 2 Corinthians 5:14-21. Because I’m then there was no point in Christ dying,” Christy shared. a sinner and I need grace, I can show that same grace to “We preach to ourselves constantly that God’s sovereignty someone else.” is the biggest foundation for our lives and that we are not “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced the Rescuer, we are a reflection. that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for “It’s such a privilege because women are literally calling us all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves when they are in a place of deep pain and brokenness and but for him who died for them and was raised again. So, are asking for hope,” Christy said. “These women are coming from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. to us … and we want the Church to be a part of that.” Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no Thankfully, there are plenty of opportunities for the Body of longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has Christ to be involved: come. The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, • Donate to The Well, a fund used to meet the physical who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the needs of women in unexpected pregnancies by helping ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world cover rent, utilities, food, hospital stay, and more. Visit to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. lifelinechild.org/the-well/. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. • Support Lifeline’s Birth Mother’s Day Luncheon by vol- We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were unteering or financially supporting this special day built making his appeal through us.” 2 Corinthians 5:14-20a Fall 2020
CONNECT. SEE. PARTNER. Tr a v e l V i r t u a l l y w i t h ( u n ) a d o p t e d ®
The needs of the vulnerable have not taken a break because of a worldwide pandemic. Rather, they have grown greater. Travel restrictions and a reduction in resources have made caring for these needs challenging. Through creativity and technology, we have the privilege to connect with fellow believers who are changing communities. We can still see their needs and we can still partner with God’s work around the world. Join us for 30-45-minute virtual trips to countries like Uganda, Liberia, Ukraine, and India. Our partners on the ground will give a tour of their community and introduce us to the culture of that area. You’ll be able to walk through the town of Busega in Uganda and see classrooms where vulnerable children learn at Busega School for the Deaf and Blind. You can visit STEPS Home in Chennai, India, and see how 18 vulnerable girls are being cared for and learning about their Heavenly Father. You can see a culinary arts session at REAP’s Life Skills Camp in Liberia, where vulnerable children learn skills and hear the gospel. At the end of the trip, you can participate in asking live questions with (un)adopted staff as well as our partners on location. Every trip is free and only requires a phone or computer with Zoom access. Visit lifelinechild.org/take-a-virtual-trip/ to register for your trip. We can’t wait to see you there!
Pastor Raphael Kajjubi King Jesus Church in Busega, Uganda
Slavic & Alyona Puzanov Heritage Ukraine in Odessa, Ukraine
E V E RY S EASO N CAN B E S TAND SEASO N While lemonade stands are not a common sight in 2020, we thank you for participating in Stand for OrphansÂŽ in creative ways alongside your children. This fall and winter, use these fun suggestions to involve Stand in your family, and make a difference in the lives of thousands of vulnerable children with the funds you raise.
Homemade Stocking Stuffers
Help your children make and sell essential oil bath salts or bath bombs, ribbon/button hair ties, or bake up some of your favorite Christmas cookies.
Handmade Christmas Cards
Design and craft up some sweet Christmas cards to sell to your church family and friends.
Purchase Stand for Orphans Face Masks
Cute lemon-designed masks in both child and adult sizes can be purchased at store.lifelinechild.org. All proceeds go to the ministries of Lifeline. Visit lifelinechild.org/stand for more ideas and resources to get involved.
HOW GOD MOVES
Written by Neisha Roberts
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3 0 W E E K S. When Symone* discovered she was expecting her second child, she was already in her third trimester. This pregnancy was different than her first — she didn’t have those weeks of morning sickness, exhaustion, and swollen feet. She didn’t feel different at all, actually. But when the ultrasound revealed a tiny 3-pound baby in her womb and a strong, thumping heartbeat, reality hit. Symone already had a 5-year-old little boy, whom she adored. Because of several life circumstances, he lives with his birth father and Symone sees him every other weekend. During the week, she puts in 16-hour days, working to provide for herself and her son. The idea of adding a second child to her life was overwhelming and she knew she could not parent this baby the way she wanted. “I didn’t get to grow up in a two-parent home, and my mom ran out on us,” Symone shared. “I know from experience how influential that is. I wanted to give my baby the best thing — something I didn’t have — because it changes your life.” Symone searched online for “adoption agencies,” and Lifeline Children’s Services stood out because it was one of the only websites she found that was openly Christian. She texted the number on the page and was connected with one of Lifeline’s local pregnancy counselors, Rachel Huggart, “the sweetest person I’ve ever met,” she said. As with any first meeting between birth mother and pregnancy counselor, Rachel listened to Symone and her thoughts about her unborn baby. Though Symone was fairly confident in her desire to place her baby for adoption, they talked through all the possibilities and the details of what each decision would mean. “No matter what, we talk about all of the options,” Rachel explained. “Even if a birth mom doesn’t talk about abortion, or adoption, or parenting, it doesn’t mean they’re not thinking about it. We want them to have all of the information before they decide and help them think long-term. Babies are cute and sometimes cuddly but what happens when they are 15 years old? Or, if you had all the financial resources you needed, would you still want to place your child for adoption?” Symone shared, “Rachel didn’t pressure me about anything and just told me all the good and bad about each option, really explaining how the process works — from what to expect at each step, to what it looks like to pick a family, and then what those interactions look like afterward.” Because of her relationship with the Lord, Symone prayed over her options. Birth mothers are always “in the driver’s seat” at Lifeline, so when Symone made her decision, Rachel walked with her through the myriad of details that accompany any birth, but also supported her as they planned for the specific details of an open adoption. The two worked through how to articulate just what Symone was looking for in a family — Did she want someone who already had older children? Someone “I DIDN’T GET TO GROW with a dog? A family that loved to travel? Lived in her UP IN A TWO-PARENT state? Since Lifeline meticulously assesses every family HOME, AND MY MOM that applies for adoption, we can already assure birth mothers that the family knows Christ and is committed to RAN OUT ON US. I KNOW loving and raising children under His leadership. FROM EXPERIENCE HOW Symone’s desires were composed into what’s called a INFLUENTIAL THAT IS. “nonidentifying info summary” and sent to all the Lifeline I WANTED TO GIVE MY families that matched her wishes: a two-parent home, a stay-at-home mom, someone who couldn’t have biological BABY THE BEST THING children, and one in which family is most important. — SOMETHING I DIDN’T The beauty of this process really shines through as HAVE — BECAUSE IT both birth mothers and adoptive parents are protected CHANGES YOUR LIFE.” — Lifeline families receive an info summary and are able Fall 2020
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said. “Ultimately the Holy Spirit works through Lifeline to change our hearts, as adoptive parents, toward the things we are fearful of.” They completed their home study and agreed to the baseline level of “openness” that Lifeline requires of all families — sending designated updates on the child to Lifeline — to be shared with a birth mom if she desires open communication or filed if she does not. In 2014, they were chosen by a birth mom and joyously welcomed Elijah home as their first son. By 2016, they were ready to add to their family and applied for domestic adoption again. Two years later they brought home their second son, Max, this time with a little more open communication with the birth parents. God was growing their family and molding their hearts toward birth parent ministry at the same time. In November 2019, once again Jeff and Alisa applied. They completed their home study in April 2020, hoping to bring home their third child in six years. This time they were prepared to pursue an even more open adoption. For every application, Alisa entered in with trepidation. “I’ve always been sort of self-conscious about our profile book. We’re not big travelers and we’re pretty simple and quiet. I always felt like that worked against us, where birth mothers may not choose us because we’re not going and doing a ton of new things.” to pray over it and decide if they want their information to be shared with that birth mother. When they say “yes,” they commit to that birth mom and her baby, if she picks them. Then once a birth mom views the “yes” family profile books, she chooses her family and doesn’t have to worry about whether or not they will back out for any reason. “A lot of times something women bring with them is shame,” Rachel explained. “Shame over what happened, fear that no one would want their baby, or not like her as a birth mom.” This process helps remove some of that fear.
6 YEARS. Jeff and Alisa married in 2008 and always planned to grow their family through adoption. They imagined having biological children first and adopting later. But after facing the painful trials of infertility, the couple applied to Lifeline’s domestic adoption program. Though filled with joy and anticipation, the path of domestic adoption for the couple also carried many fears with it. Alisa feared that having an open adoption with a birth mother would mean she would have control over Alisa and the way she raised her children. Jeff said he was fearful that they wouldn’t have the same freedoms as if they’d had biological children. Because every family faces some of these very valid concerns, Lifeline walks through trainings, conferences, and countless conversations to help them prepare for and overcome these fears. “They do such a good job of training and teaching,” Jeff Fall 2020
24 HOURS. After all the background work was completed, Symone was given the “yes” family profile books to look through. Rachel said, “I’ve never had a client choose a family so quickly and confidently,” explaining that Symone chose Jeff and Alisa within one hour. Rachel urged her to sleep on it and confirm in the morning, giving it a full 24 hours. “She had such confidence in what she decided, and I think that was the Lord in her.” Things moved quickly and Symone met Jeff and Alisa for the first time over video call. “I basically interrogated them,” she laughed. “But I wanted to confirm what I was thinking. After meeting them, I knew these people are really real and they’re the perfect fit.” The call ended and some of Jeff and Alisa’s first thoughts were, “Wow, she’s beautiful” and “That was amazing.” The couple felt like they’d just had a call with a good friend. It turns out, the very things that Alisa felt a little insecure about in her family were things that Symone liked most — putting family first and even having supper together every night meant a lot to her because of the things lacking in her own childhood. “Choosing adoption wasn’t an easy decision to make but going off of what I’d lived through as a kid, I had to make a decision that was best for her and best for me and not live in regret,” Symone said. “I made a decision where I never had to worry about her going through the trauma of a broken home.”
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ONE MOMENT. Hours after baby Maggie was born in June 2020, Jeff, Alisa, and Symone were all together in the hospital, and at the request of Symone, they stayed together for the next three recovery days. Rachel explained that sometimes hospital time can be a little awkward, but the three were “cutting up and laughing because they felt so comfortable.” When it was time to discharge on Saturday, Alisa found herself overcome with emotion. She’d never been this close with one of her children’s birth parents and she knew leaving the hospital and driving in separate directions would be hard on everyone. “I know Symone could tell I was dreading that moment,” Alisa shared. “She pulled me aside and asked how I was doing. Here was a mama who had just given birth but was tenderly placing her baby into my arms to parent, love, and raise. And she was the one asking me how I’m doing. … I started crying. She told me to ‘dry it up,’” Alisa laughed, “because Maggie will pick up on ‘those sad eyes.’ She said, ‘I don’t want Maggie to feel anything but joy from you.’” They exited the hospital together and gave hugs goodbye. Jeff, Alisa, and Maggie made it home without tears, and Alisa emailed Symone to let her know.
A LIFETIME. Not every relationship is this close, and some are closer. For Jeff, Alisa, and Symone, there’s much yet to be written in their story. Both parties hope that a beautiful friendship will deepen and remain strong in the future. As Symone thinks about baby Maggie and the lifetime of love she’ll receive with her family, she knows she can lean into God in the stages of grief. “Rachel reminded me that there’s no timeline for grief,” Symone said. “And I want others to know that too. You may have a day when you’re down and need encouragement, or it may be two or three months from now. Don’t try to put a time frame on the healing process.” For Alisa, speaking highly of her children’s birth mothers is always a top priority. “These women are courageous, thoughtful, caring, and loving as they made a plan for their babies. They have done one of the hardest things I can imagine.” In the nearly three years Rachel has walked alongside birth mothers as a pregnancy counselor, she’s seen many women choose “one of the most selfless acts ever” as they create an adoption plan for their baby. “Adoption is not the easy way out,” Rachel said. “There is grief and loss in adoption. But it’s also a beautiful reminder of the way God sacrificed for us, for our best, and how we ourselves are adopted through Christ. It is one clear and beautiful picture of the gospel.” *Names changed for security reasons.
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CORRESPONDENCE WAYS TO SHOW LOVE TO YOUR CHILD’S BIRTH PARENTS by Jenny Riddle
e have learned that in order to best love our son, we must also love his birth parents well.” Morgan, a Lifeline mom through domestic adoption, explained how healthy relationships with her son’s birth parents allows him to have “a sense of security in who he is and a feeling of pride in where God has ultimately led him to be planted.” Whether a close relationship with his birth parents will happen is still yet to be seen. However, Morgan understands that a child is connected to his or her birth family, no matter how much interaction is possible. Acknowledging their presence in a child’s life and creating a safe atmosphere to think and talk about them gives a child the freedom to explore that aspect of his or her life, ultimately giving a healthier sense of identity and stability. Families of domestic adoption, especially, have a unique opportunity to love birth families through both correspondence and visits. This article focuses primarily
on the correspondence aspect of these relationships. At Lifeline, a birth mother decides what level of openness works best for her and her situation and then chooses from prospective families who are open to that same level. Domestic adoptive families complete an agreement as part of the adoption process, based on this agreed level of openness. Many families and birth parents choose to do more updates and visits, and sometimes the relationships progress organically outside of the “requirements.” The following stories illustrate how a relationship can naturally progress and gives a snapshot of how families can love birth parents in various corresponding circumstances: Lisa’s daughter was born in September 2019. The adoption process happened very quickly and didn’t allow much time for her family to develop a relationship with her daughter’s birth mother. However, Lisa and her husband met - 14 -
their daughter’s birth mother on the same day they met their daughter. Today, they send regular updates through Lifeline, including notes and pictures of special events. They also pray for her and talk about her regularly by name with their daughter. Making sure her daughter knows about her birth family is very important to Lisa. Although Lisa has tried to include her daughter’s birth mother in their lives as much as possible, the response has been discouragingly little. Lisa desires a deeper relationship, but she loves this sweet birth mother however she can: “Even if that doesn’t happen, we pray that God works in our birth mom’s life and that she is getting the love and support she needs. We will always be here if and when she is ready to be more involved and would never push her if she’s not comfortable.” Morgan brought her son home in September 2019. After Morgan and her husband’s first meeting with their son’s lifelinechild.org
birth mother, they were overcome with her courage, love, beauty, resilience, and selflessness. They were determined to honor her in their parenting out of a genuine love for her: “We have loved her since the day we read her story and have loved her more and more as time has passed.” Because of this birth mom’s specific difficult story, Morgan’s family has only communicated through update letters facilitated by Lifeline. In her letters, Morgan writes with love for this precious woman as she shares all of the firsts of her son’s life, how his personality is shaping, the joy he brings, and how he is unique and wonderful. Morgan mentioned in several letters that their family was open to more frequent communication, if she were ever comfortable with it. Not knowing if their birth mother was even receiving their letters, they were surprised and thrilled to receive a package from her around their son’s first birthday. The package contained a priceless letter, some pictures, and a birthday gift for their son. Although they pray further relationship will develop, Morgan knows that they will continue to show love to his birth mother, regardless of her engagement. God has already grown their hearts to love beyond what they ever thought possible. Wendy and her husband enthusiastically met their son and his birth parents in October 2017 in the hospital at his birth. They named him together, as a group of four loving parents. The couple was able to have hours of conversation with their son’s birth parents that first day and even more hours the next. Wendy explains how that time impacted their lives: “We left that day not knowing if we would ever meet them again, but feeling as though we had met new friends. The pictures we have of the five of us all together that day hang in [our son’s] room. We tell them good morning and good night and how much we love them on a daily basis. [He] doesn’t just have two earthly parents that love him: he has four.” Wendy has followed their agreed correspondence schedule since the beginning, providing updates for the birth mom and birth dad. She prints out pictures and writes dates and explanations on the back. She also sends child artwork, handprints, and handwritten notes to update them on all his likes, dislikes, milestones, experiences, etc. When he turned 1, Wendy made a photo yearbook of his first year and sent it to them. When her son turned 2, Wendy received a request from his birth mother to FaceTime on his birthday. It was a sweet time for everyone involved, and Wendy would love to see this happen every year, she said. However, only time will tell how these relationships will take shape. In the meantime, Wendy prays she is able to share the gospel and their lives with their son’s birth parents through each correspondence: “We love them so much. We don’t just want to share Jesus with them, but our whole lives. That is what I am praying I am giving them through our correspondence. I pray it is a picture of His love.” Elise and her husband first met their son’s birth parents in the hospital, just 22 hours after his birth, and brought him home in March 2018. From the very beginning, the birth parents wanted to see pictures and hear updates regularly. Until her Fall 2020
son turned 2, Elise used a separate email account to send monthly pictures and updates to his birth parents. Now, she still maintains official updates through Lifeline by using an online picture album company; she includes milestones, what he likes, pictures, and a written update of his life. In addition to the official correspondence, Elise sends a short update and pictures around every three months to the birth parents. In-person visits are also a part of their relationship. The first visit happened at Lifeline offices, with a counselor present, when this sweet child was 9 months old. As the relationship became more comfortable and consistent, the families met for a few hours at local spots like the zoo or a park. Elise’s son has even met both of his birth grandmothers. She prays that as these relationships grow, they will continue to see the benefit of having the love of all of these people surrounding her son. Although each relationship looks different, the heart of these parents is the same — to love their child’s birth parents with the love of God in whatever way is available to them at the time. For some families, that means sending in official correspondence without ever receiving a response from birth parents. For others, it means meeting birth families for a picnic in the park. For all families, it means praying for birth families and talking about them respectfully. Here are a few tips for corresponding with your child’s birth family: • There are many avenues of correspondence: photobooks, printed pictures, digital pictures, handwritten notes, emails, blogs, gifts, etc. Choose the method that helps you best tell your child’s story within the agreements set up with your child’s birth family. • Be consistent. Whatever you have agreed to, do it consistently and do it well. • Keep a note on your phone of little things your child does or says so that you can remember to include those in your next update. • Utilize the lifelines available through your family’s domestic specialist to give you age-appropriate ways to involve your child in your updates. • Include a Bible verse and let them know you are praying for them. • Think about what you would want to know/have/see from your child as you prepare your correspondence. Although the bulk of this information applies mostly to families whose children were adopted domestically and have the ability to correspond, the same principles apply to all families built by adoption or foster care: • Love your child by loving their birth family. • Pray for your child’s birth family. • Consider how you can include or honor your child’s birth family in your lives or on special events like birthdays, holidays, etc. • Talk about your child’s birth family on an age-appropriate level with them, as they are comfortable.
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HANDPRINT MEMORIES The holidays are a time when special memories are created and memories of years past are highlighted. Watching children grow can be a sweet time that reminds you of all the things God has done in the life of your family. One way to set those memories in place is with handprint art. You may consider making an extra set to send to birth parents, grandparents, or others who are special in the life of your family. Wendy, one of our Lifeline moms through domestic adoption, tells us that holiday salt dough ornaments is one thing her family sends to her son’s birth parents every year. Handprint (or footprint) art can consist of painting a hand and making a print, printing on pottery at a studio, doing an imprint, or anything else your creativity can imagine. Below is one way to make salt dough ornaments. You can look online for ideas on how to paint your print to look like many holiday scenes or characters (like Rudolph, a Christmas tree, or mistletoe), or allow your child to make his or her own painted masterpiece. INGREDIENTS 2 cups of all-purpose flour 1 cup of salt 1 cup of water (you may need less) Acrylic paint, if you want to paint Sealer like Mod Podge® Ribbon for ornament hanger DIRECTIONS Mix flour and salt in a large bowl. Add water slowly. You may not need a full cup. Knead the mixture into a smooth dough. If it becomes too sticky, add more flour. If it’s too crumbly, add more water. Roll your dough into a ball and then flatten into a circle of about 1 cm thickness, using your hand or a rolling pin. The circle should be slightly larger than your child’s hand. Help your child make a handprint in the dough. Poke a hole near the top for your ribbon to go through. You can dry out salt dough in the oven at a very low temperature (such as 200° F) for several hours, flipping them a few times. You can also dry out the salt dough by microwaving it for 10 seconds at a time. Or, you can allow the dough to air dry for several days, or until dry. Paint your creation, if you desire. Seal the front and back with a sealer to keep moisture from getting into your dough. Tie your ribbon through the hole to make the ornament hanger. Store in an airtight container in a warm, dry room. You may wish to wrap them in white tissue paper for extra protection.
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Hope & Peace at Home Lifeline’s Counseling Team wants to help you bring hope and peace into your home this holiday season. No matter your family dynamics or where you are in the adoption process, we invite you to reach out to one of our Christian, certified, and trained therapists today.
C A L L 205 -96 7 -08 1 1 OR E MA IL C O U NSELING@LIF ELINEC HILD.O RG
The Well is an initiative by Lifeline Children’s Services built to meet the physical needs of women in unexpected pregnancies. This fund allows our pregnancy counselors to help these women cover rent, utilities, medical costs, food, transportation, and many other needs throughout their pregnancy, hospital stay, and after. When we care for and meet their physical needs, abundant opportunities arise for us to share about the One who can meet their ultimate need and take on their sin and shame. LEARN MORE ABOUT PARTNERING WITH THE WELL INITIATIVE BY DONATING OR MAKING A GIFT BAG FOR A BIRTH MOTHER AT LIFELINECHILD.ORG/THEWELL.
BIRTH FOSTER FOREVER
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T H E
The general culture of talking about a child’s adoption has shifted over the past few decades. Being open with a child about his or her adoption is now much more commonplace. However, for parents, talking about birth parents can often cause feelings of fear, insecurity, or inadequacy. As shepherds of their children’s hearts, though, parents must recognize that a child’s understanding of his identity and self-worth is connected to his family of origin. By talking openly, parents give children the freedom to safely explore the emotions and thoughts that are so closely tied to their story. Giving children permission to love all families from their story strengthens relationships and provides a solid foundation for understanding their past, not being ashamed of who they are, and navigating life in a healthy way. Talking with children in the foster care system about their families may also be uncomfortable for foster parents, particularly when circumstances are challenging. Nevertheless, having an age-appropriate and truthful understanding of their birth family and past will help children move toward their future with confidence and hope. In light of the importance of this topic and practice, Traci Newell, a personal and professional expert in adoption education and family reconciliation at Lifeline, shares helpful insights and guidelines about talking with your children about their birth parents. HOW DO YOU INTRODUCE YOUR CHILD(REN) TO THE IDEA OF BIRTH PARENTS? The phrase “birth parent” should be introduced to children who were adopted into their families or placed into foster care from an early age. You can acquaint your child with the concept of “birth family” from the beginning by openly talking about different kinds of families: birth families, forever families, and foster families. Books with colorful illustrations and simple language can be very effective tools. If this is a topic that you have not covered with your child, and he is now older, it is never too late to start. If your child is curious but not asking questions, it could be that he is fearful of hurting your feelings. You can take opportunities, such as birthdays and other special occasions (Mother’s Day, Christmas, etc.) to start the dialogue. For example, you might say something like, “Today is such a special day. I wonder if it makes you think about your birth mom or birth dad because I have been thinking about them.” It is Fall 2020
D O O R S
important that you follow their cues, though, and don’t push if you encounter resistance. If your child is older and was placed into your home through foster care, it is important to acknowledge his birth parent(s) as his parents and call them by the name(s) your child has assigned to them. HOW DO YOU ANSWER QUESTIONS IF YOU DON’T KNOW THE ANSWER? (In Adoption) Be honest. By responding, “I am not sure, but I will try to find out” you communicate that you are not withholding information and that it’s an important question to you. If the question is tied to something nonspecific about your child, like the place where he was born, you may even involve them in your investigation. If you believe the question could lead to the discovery of difficult information, assure your child that you are committed to find out what you can. Discerning when your child is ready to receive certain parts of their story can be tricky, but usually if they are asking, they are ready. For some children, there are lingering questions about their birth. If you were not present for your child’s birth and you do not have records from the hospital, then you may not be able to gather specific information. If not, it is ok to speculate as long as you do not make up details of the birth. For example, you may say: “Many babies are born in a place called a hospital.” “You probably cried a lot because the world was brand new to you.” “I bet you were a beautiful baby.” “I sure do wish I could have been there to see you.” Acknowledging your sadness that you missed parts of your child’s life is ok. Grief can feel isolating if it is not shared. Make sure that your grief does not overshadow theirs and that the discussion stays child-focused. (In Foster Care) Because shared parenting is an important part of foster care, it is important that the adults in your child’s care are telling him the same story. When possible, collaborate with your child’s birth parent(s) and social worker to determine what he already knows and what the birth parent(s) would like him to know. Relying on the social worker to collect as much information as possible is important, and you may need to ask questions of the child, too. If your child was in a previous placement, you may need to gather information from his former foster family, and if your child does not have a life book (with pictures and information about important milestones), it is not too late to create one.
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Compiled by Jenny Riddle with Traci Ne well, LBSW, TBRI® Practitioner, Education Specialist, & National Prog ram Director for Families Count™
C O N V E R S AT I O N
HOW DO YOU ANSWER QUESTIONS WHEN THE ANSWERS ARE HARD TO HEAR? Some parents are inclined to shield their child from hard parts of their story. This type of “protection” can actually perpetuate feelings of shame, however, and can inadvertently lead your child to make assumptions that are untrue. Normalizing adoption and foster care for your child means talking about even the most difficult subjects — if they sense you are comfortable, more than likely, they will be too. For younger children, more concrete explanations are needed, but as children progress in development they are able to conceptualize and move into more abstract thinking. This is the time when they will need more specific information so they don’t draw their own conclusions. After sharing difficult information, your child may need to be held or may need to be alone for a while. It is good to follow-up with the question, “How are you feeling?” after your child has absorbed the information. Acknowledging that it is ok for your child to have feelings about hard information is important. WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOUR CHILD WHEN YOU ARE RESPECTFUL OF THEIR BIRTH PARENTS? Your child’s sense of identity, especially as he comes to understand how the family is structured, will more than likely be tied to your family and to his birth family. This happens naturally because there is a God-given connection to one’s family of birth. The way that you talk about your child’s birth parent(s) may have a direct bearing on the way he views himself. Showing respect to and for your child’s birth parent(s) in the way that you interact with them or talk about them may not be something that comes easily, particularly if you have witnessed the negative results of a parent’s wrong choices. The message that this type of positive communication sends to your child, though, is one that can bear heathy fruit in your relationship for years to come. More importantly, if your desire is for your child to understand his value as an image bearer of Christ, he needs to understand from what you say and do that his birth parent(s), too, are His image bearers. HOW DO YOU NURTURE AN ENVIRONMENT WHERE YOUR CHILD FEELS COMFORTABLE TO TALK ABOUT BIRTH PARENTS? One of the main reasons parents cite for not talking with their children about birth family is the fear of saying the wrong thing. The good news is, what you say is usually not as important as how you listen. Actively listening to your child Fall 2020
— even when you have strong feelings and opinions about the topic — means setting aside distractions and saving your responses until the child has finished talking. Before responding, it is also good to ask clarifying questions like “What did you mean when you said … ?” Many children want to be careful to not hurt their parents’ feelings, but in order for children to grow and develop in healthy ways, they need your permission to think and talk about their birth families with the people they trust most — you. You grant this permission when you are approachable and “safe.” Some experts recommend these talks take place from the beginning — even from infancy. The goal should be to create safety for your child to come to you and ask questions at any stage of their development. HOW CAN WE, AS PARENTS, NOT FEEL AFRAID? OR, WHAT SHOULD WE FEEL? There are no predictors of how you will feel in response to your child’s questions and thoughts about their birth family. Regardless of your background, it is important to recognize the normalcy of your feelings — whether positive or negative — and to deal with any negative feelings in a healthy way. A first step in “dealing” with your feelings is talking honestly to a trusted confidante (or sometimes, a neutral third-party) about how you are feeling. Many parents through foster care or adoption will avoid talking about their true feelings because of shame or a fear of being judged. In this case, it can be a good thing to find another mom or dad with whom you have adoption/foster care in common to confide in. Feelings are not wrong; it is what you do with those feelings that matters most. By avoiding honest conversations, you may be prolonging or exacerbating negative feelings, which can hinder open communication with your child. Above all, if you have placed your faith in Jesus Christ, you, too, are adopted. Because you have a Father with “unsearchable understanding” (Isa. 40:28), you can confidently go to Him with your thoughts and feelings and He will not reject you or turn you away. If you have questions or concerns about talking to your children about their birth families, reach out to your social worker or Lifeline’s Education & Counseling team. For further reading, including sample ways to explain sensitive issues with birth families, see Chapter 11 of The Whole Life Adoption Book by Jayne E. Schooler & Thomas C. Atwood.
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S A N CTITY OF H UMAN LIFE January 17, 2021
R O O TE D IN LOV E January 24, 2021
CH IN E SE N E W YE AR February 12, 2021
B IR M ING H AM,AL
Arc Stories — April 29, 2021
S O U TH CAR OLINA
Bingo Night to benefit Lifeline’s Foster Care program — May 2021 Join “Team Fostering Hope” in the Palmetto 200 — March 27-28, 2021
Fundraising Dinner in Topeka — March 26, 2021
“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’” Isaiah 52:7 Renee Griffin served families, children, and foster families with excellence over a 38-year tenure. During that time, she and her husband, Dan, saw their family grow with four children and 10 grandchildren, and she had a hand in helping more than 1,500 families grow through adoption. Always a servant of Christ, ready to listen and respond in love, she is a sister who laughs and cries with families in their joy and pain and a servant who does whatever she is called to do. Lifeline will never be the same without Renee Griffin serving domestic adoptive families, but Lifeline is so much better because of her years of service. Thank you, Renee! We love you.
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Thank You to Our Partners Douglas Acton Maryssa Allen Ron Anders Alice Arceneaux Mark Armstrong Michael S. Bailey Randy Barth Stephen Battise Richard Baxter Aaron Bean Jeffrey Beard Brian Beckett Alicia Den Beste Jeremy and Amy Bettis Tracy Bird Barbara and Chris Blackerby Stephen C. Blake Phillip Blume M. Steven Bobo Stephen Brandt Jody Brannon Corey Braun Steve Brock Philip Brown Martin Browne John Burnam Lindsey Ann and Benjamin Burnett Heather and Ryan Cain James Caldwell Josh Caldwell Luke Caldwell Marie Calhoun Steven Campora Ling Cao Sara Carey Matthew Carrington William and Diane Carroll Michael Catania Beth Chang Hugh Cheek Kelly Cheeseman Kim Christenberry Nita Christopher Cameron Clayton Nathan Click Jordan Coggin Chris Coghlan Douglas Cole Heith Comer Kandace Cornutt Tim Crist Alice Crook Mike Cuenin
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AS A MINISTRY, LIFELINE SEEKS TO EQUIP THE BODY OF CHRIST TO MANIFEST THE GOSPEL TO VULNERABLE CHILDREN. This work is only possible by God’s grace and through partners who care about the fatherless — like you — and give of their time, network, and resources. Would you help Change One Life this year and participate in our Year End Campaign? Through a tax-deductible gift before December 31, 2020, you can make an impact in the life of a family in the process of adoption, help serve women in unexpected pregnancies, or facilitate trainings in places like Colombia so believers can learn how to best minister to orphans in their own community.
Or mark your calendars to join in on national Giving Tuesday (December 1) and your gift will be matched up to $2,500. Thanks to a generous donor, that means whatever you give on December 1 ($1, $20 or $1,000) will be doubled. Visit lifelinechild.org/donate or text Lifeline20 to 243-725 to make a donation of any amount.