What is Attachment?

June 25, 2017 0 Comments


It’s a buzz word. Outside the adoption world, people probably have heard it paired with the word parenting to refer to a lifestyle of co-sleeping with toddlers and discouraging mothers and fathers from the cry-it-out method to get their infants to sleep through the night. But, attachment at its core is way more than an “organic” parenting doctrine. We know that as adoptive parents. After all, attachment is likely somehow a part of every adoption-related book and every adoption training. We know it’s critical. But, we don’t always know why. Often, our understanding of it doesn’t go beyond knowing something’s broken and wanting strategies to fix it.

Understanding attachment means understanding how we are wired from the very start for connection and how those connections — the good and the not-so-good — impact how we learn to see ourselves and our world.

In the early part of the 20th century, experts saw attachment differently. They observed attachment between an infant and his mother but said that it was founded on food (the-way-to-a-child’s-heart-is-through-his-stomach idea). The child’s biological need for food morphs to a need for the one who meets that need, resulting in an attachment. By the 1950s, John Bowlby turned that theory upside down when he found that children in distress still demonstrated distress after competent, non-primary caregivers fed them. Their attachment wasn’t based on food; it was based on a relationship, a relationship that the child had come to associate with safety and security through his or her needs being met.

Babies are utterly dependent on caregivers for everything and are created in a way that gets caregivers to meet their needs. When babies experience a need, they cry. Caregivers respond and meet that need, and all is well with the world until the next need is felt. Babies and caregivers go through this cycle of felt need, expressing need, need met, felt safety literally hundreds of times a day when a tiny belly feels empty, when little arms he may not even know how to move yet feel cold, when her bottom is wet, when a loud noise scares him. As the child experiences this loop over and over and over again, he learns some very important life lessons that start simply with My caregiver meets my needs and grow to My caregiver is willing and able to help me. I am valuable and worthy of that help. When I get that help, life is good.

When those lessons are learned, that little baby learns to identify his needs and desires and how to express them. His brain develops the way it should as all the hormones related to stress and contentment fluctuate up and down as they should. She learns to self-regulate and wait for what she wants or needs because of the established trust and felt safety. And, she learns how to do relationships (empathy, give and take, vulnerability, forgiveness after mistakes are made) in ways she carries with her as she grows and her world gets bigger.

With all the focus on the child, we can easily see caregivers as static in this process; but, this cycle impacts them too. While the child is learning, his caregiver learns some things too: I am willing and able to help my child. I am valuable and worthy of that job. When I help my child, life is good for all of us.

Kids who came to us through adoption didn’t experience this the way they should have. For children who have lived life in part in an institutional setting, we may recognize those breaks in the relationship clearly. When she felt hungry, she cried and maybe someone came… but not for a while… and when they did, it wasn’t for very long. When his bottom was wet, he cried and he had to wait his turn. When there was scary thunder at night, maybe she was surrounded only by cribs with babies who were also scared. A child doesn’t have to be in an orphanage to experience breaks in this loop —neglect, abandonment, hospitalizations, persistent pain, foster care, unexpected goodbyes, etc. can cause breaks. A baby who experiences these kinds of starts learns a whole different set of lessons — My caregiver doesn’t really meet my needs. She isn’t willing and able to help me. I am not valuable and worthy of help. Life isn’t all that safe for me.

Relationships can look really different for this little one. Giving and receiving love — which is something he or she really needs — may feel too costly and hard. Letting someone else be in charge — also something he or she really needs — may feel too risky. They may live life on edge, expecting the worst and needing to be on the offense, ready for a threat. Noradrenalin and cortisol and serotonin levels (hormones in the brain related to aggression, impulse control, and emotion regulation) aren’t where they should be. It is with these patterns that she learns how to do relationships in ways she carries with her as she grows and her world gets bigger.

It’s in these patterns where we as parents feel that brokenness deeply because we want so badly to be what our children need. Yet, when our parenting seemingly comes up short, we can easily start hearing the messages: I am not able to help my child. I am not valuable and worthy of that job. Nothing is working.

Those messages are hard to hear because maybe we’ve heard something like them before. It’s not only our child’s history that matter; our history matters too. We are coming into this relationship as the caregiver on one side of the cycle having been on the other side ourselves, having received our own messages of value, worth, and the way the world works, having developed our own patterns of doing relationships because of those messages.

This is why we need strategies that help us to be better at building connection — for our children, for ourselves, for our families. Whether our kids are 3 months old, 13 years old or 30 years old, we need them. The attachment loop will look different than it does when we’re talking about infants, but it still applies. Our need for relationship and connection doesn’t magically end at age 3; it’s how we’re made and how we grow. The identified needs and expression of them are different. Our responses as caregivers are different. But the opportunity to send messages of safety and security, of value and hope – and receive the messages we need – remains.

Questions to consider:

• What messages (good and/or not so good) did you receive about yourself and the world around you growing up?

• What messages are you sending and what messages do you think your children are receiving from you as a parent? (note: they don’t always match up.)

• What messages do you want your children to be able to say they received from you?

How to Leave a Legacy for Your Children

June 24, 2017 0 Comments

I’ll never forget it as long as live.

When I was little, my family would travel from Alabama to North Georgia at the end of every summer to visit my great grandparents. My great grandfather, Wiley was his name, lived on a hillside off US Highway 27. He was the original DIYer. There was nothing he didn’t know how to do or fix, especially related to farming and gardening. His farm was like a walk through paradise.

In my memory his hillside garden was as close to the Garden of Eden as I’d ever get. Fresh veggies. Apple and peach trees. Scuppernong vines. Even peanuts all grew on this perfectly terraced mountain of a hillside. But a spread like this wasn’t only attractive to humans. Deer, coyote, rabbits, and probably other wild things would find their way in for a free meal. It used to be that my “job” during our visits was to find all the spent shotgun shells and bring them back to the shed. I never saw him kill anything, but based on all the shells I found, he pulled the trigger a lot.

One day, my great grandaddy, along with my dad and I were hiking the hill; me with a canvas sack strapped to my hip for collected spent shells, my dad empty handed, and my great grandfather with his trusty shotgun slung over his shoulder. There on that mountain, something unexpected happened. My great grandfather held his arm out as if to say, “Stop! Quiet…” He raised his gun, stared at something I couldn’t see, and pulled the trigger. The barrel erupted with a sound so powerful that it seemed to pull the air out of my lungs.

Both he and my dad stood their pleased with the moment. I didn’t really know what was going on. My great grandfather broke opened the barrel, expelled the spent shell, and handed the gun to my dad with the words, “It ought to last a real long time.” It was quite simple and yet deeply ceremonious. I stood there, a boy of about 12 years, fascinated by it all. The passing down of an heirloom, an inheritance.

We walked down the hill, my dad now with the gun over his shoulder, and I as a witness to something spectacular. When we got to the house, my great grandfather stopped my dad and nodded at him knowingly. My dad looked at me and said, “Son, this gun of your grandaddy’s is yours. It belongs to you. It’s a fine piece of craftsmanship. I’m going to keep it until you’re old enough. But it’s all yours.” I was beside myself! I felt as though I’d just taken a giant step up into the ranks of manhood. Not because of what the gift was, but because it belonged my great grandfather and would one day be mine.

The day I graduated high school, years after my great grandfather had passed, my dad brought that old shotgun to me and a card with the words, “This is yours. Always has been. It ought to last you a real long time.”

The covenant God made with Abraham is much like an heirloom passed down. It was loaded with a promise, “All of this is yours.” The Law, given to Moses some 430 years later, acting as an amendment, offered protection or guardianship of the promise until Jesus, the only one worthy of the inheritance, could rightfully claim it. But what’s so special about this promised inheritance is that while Jesus was the only one worthy of it, he chose to distribute it to us. Jesus received it by right. But we receive it by faith. In fact, our faith in Jesus is what gives us the right to be called children of God.

“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” – John 1:12-13 (ESV)

I think it’s powerful to recognize that in the work of our redemption, God could have simply made us new creations and left us at that. It would have been enough to grant us citizenship into heaven. We would have all been grateful to not be left on the outside of the Kingdom. But he didn’t stop there. Instead he chose to make us members of his family and heirs to the promise. We went from bystanders to children.

His act of adoption is the foundation for every adoption. A child without a family is brought into a home, given a name and granted legal status. He becomes a son, as though that was always the plan, with all the rights of inheritance and the responsibilities of sonship.

Through what Christ has done, we are heirs of everything that belongs to God. And through our earthly adoptions, our children, whether biological or adopted, become heirs to everything. There is no class of child. Before Jesus, we were at best citizen and servants of God, but now through his great display of love, we are sons and daughters, invited into everything without exclusion.

Dads, I know sometimes you fear you might not be able to love your adopted child the same as you would a biological child. But I am fully confident the capacity for the love you have in your heart has nothing to do with biology. Every day you choose to love, you choose to grant an inheritance to your children. You leave impressions of yourself in their hearts and minds.

Sure, I’ll remember the event of the passing down of my great-grandfather’s shotgun. But those aren’t the things that I remember about him. Our interactions, his laugh, his stories… those are the inheritance. Those are the legacy.

Maybe you don’t have a lot of stuff to pass along. Maybe you do. But if you continue to open your heart, the stuff that really matters will pour out. Your love will fill the walls of their hearts with an inheritance beyond measure. At the end of your life, you won’t have to hand down something physical because your children will know…

“All of this belongs to you!”


1,000 Ways to Lose a Father

June 23, 2017 0 Comments

In the days after Father’s Day, I’ve been thinking… there are a thousand ways to lose a father. My youngest girl will probably never know the man who gave her the curve of her smile; the crinkle in her nose; her ability to cross her eyes to seemingly impossible degrees when she’s being silly. Truthfully, she’ll never even know what it is of her that comes from him, unique lineage carved into her DNA and shaping her in ways visible yet unknown.

I don’t pretend to know how this void will shape her life as she grows, but I know it will be with her always… a question mark punctuating many of the things she thinks of herself, this life, and her place in it.

You can lose a dad you never knew and ache always, and it’s a terrible way to lose a father.


One of my closest friends lost her daddy to vicious cancer. I never knew him, but I feel like I do because I see his mark on my friend’s life… in her ability to drive a trailer, change the oil, and let her yes always be yes and her no always be no. And I like him very much.

She’s not the only one, of course, who has had to stand beside an open hole in the ground and struggle to find steady footing beneath her. I’m in the season of life where there are fewer engagement parties and wedding showers and a few more quiet conversations that start with, “Did you hear about Sarah’s dad?” and end with sadly shaking heads. And casseroles. There are always casseroles. Comfort cloaked in cream-of-something soup.

There is a goodbye that is the last goodbye, and it’s a terrible way to lose a father.


It’s been two years since I saw my father or had any contact with him. I’m not angry and I don’t hate him, but he’s not safe. A simple reality that is impossibly difficult to make peace with. It’s an equation I’ve worked and reworked a million times in my head, looking for a different way… a Norman Rockwell way. But at the end of the day, the truth is the truth and I can’t make it what it isn’t. I believe he’s always done the best he can, and I don’t fault him for all the ways his mind twists and turns and creates a version of this world that few understand… But this world of his? It isn’t one I can live in; it isn’t one my girls can enter.

I don’t even fault him for coping with bottles. Life can be so very hard, and we all get by as best as we can. But my children and I can’t be around the aftermath of that. I didn’t know I was strong enough to live in the tension of standing firm while also still longing, loving, and stubbornly clinging to this hope that takes me to my knees praying for healing and a different end to this story. If he were a healthier version of himself, I think my dad would probably be proud of me.

Sometimes you let go of someone who isn’t really gone, and it’s a terrible way to lose a father.


There are a thousand ways to lose a father. Preoccupation. Divorce. Addiction. Career. Neglect. Abuse. Distraction. Abandonment. Despair. Death. I only deeply know the way I lost my own. And over the last few years, I have felt every possible emotion when it comes to loosing dads. Sadness seeping to rage because my relationship with my father isn’t what I want it to be. Envy when I see people who have the kind of relationship with their dad that I wish I could have. Misplaced anger that there were no casseroles in the aftermath of our excruciating goodbyes; that no one really says “I’m sorry for your loss,” because this isn’t the kind of loss anyone knows what to do with… In truth, it’s the kind of loss that raises some eyebrows and questions about what kind of daughter I am.

I’ve felt all the feelings, and I still do. Not a single day goes by that I don’t think of him. But I’m starting to realize I’m not alone. My journey is unique – sure – and the shape of my pain looks different than yours, maybe. But the ache is the same.

There are a thousand ways to lose a father, and they are all terrible. Those of us who have lost our fathers are all walking wounded.


But as true as that is, there’s something else that’s true too. I’ve been held by a Father who speaks peace over me. I’ve been cradled, nurtured and restored. I’ve heard Him speak acceptance to the places where I’ve known only shame; I’ve felt fingertips of healing touch the most deeply-tucked-away wounded places in me. This isn’t some crappy-rainbow-religious veneer I’m slapping over my pain. It’s not a technicolor, saccharine, fraudulent churchy mask I put on to say, “Everything is fine now.”

No, like Jacob in the Bible I walk with a limp after encountering God. My wrestling with God looked like fierce tears, flailing fists, and angry thrashing – and those days are not over. Though fewer now than before, I still have days when my prayers sound more like a litany of lashing-out than a composed acceptance of the way things are. But in those darkest of moments, I’ve learned there’s space in the Father’s arms for all of this. For all the good and bad, loss and gratitude, anger and hope.

Both things are true. It is never either/or; it is always both/and.

So if you are grieving for the father you never knew, the one you wish you didn’t, or the one who said goodbye too soon – (or probably more truthfully, a mix of all three) – I pray you know the tight grasp of God. (And if you are parenting a child thrashing in anger as they grapple with the magnitude of their own loss, I pray you can dig into the deepest parts of yourself — down where you don’t think you have anything left to give — and find the grace that comes from above to be for your child a tangible expression of God’s tight grasp on them.)

I know one thing to be more true than anything else; we are closely held by a God who relentlessly pursues each of us with ferocious love. He will not be stopped; He will never let go of us. And one might expect that to be so tightly held would feel constraining; leaving us like caged wild animals fighting to be free. But astonishingly, I’ve found the exact opposite to be true. I’ve thrashed and flailed against the broken shards of my family — and those shards most certainly have cut deep, leaving me with scars that will never go away. And I’ve held my own trial for God, accusing and building a case for why He didn’t deserve my love. But through it all, He has never, ever let me go.

He has bandaged my wounds and held me steady in the midst of my angry, heaving sobs. He has absorbed my anger and returned only mercy. He has transformed my orphan spirit into the heart of a beloved daughter. He redefined the word Father for me, and He is willing to wait as long as I need in order for the truth of His love to seep deep into my bones. There is expansive freedom in the tight grip of God’s love. He is a Father who both holds us close and wishes to see us freely soar. Both/And.

My prayer for all of us who are walking wounded with father-shaped voids in our lives is that we would turn to the only Father who really can be the Daddy we always wished we had. His arms have always been open.

There are both a thousand terrible ways to lose a father, and there’s a Father we can never lose.


May you know Him and love Him and feel His delight.

Find My Family: Dalton

June 22, 2017 0 Comments

Just turned 7-year-old Dalton is one of those kids that just breaks you. His file was prepared six years ago, when he was a baby, and he is not only still waiting, but is a healthy little boy who is doing so well! It is likely no one took a chance or that leap of …Read More

An Orphan’s Courtroom

June 21, 2017 3 Comments

In honor of Father’s Day, the month of June is dedicated to Dads. During our Thoughts from the Dad series, we’ll feature stories written by fathers sharing their unique perspective on the journey of adoption. ……… It was the spring of 2013. Our three older kids were out of the house and on their own, …Read More

Nothing to Fear: Seeing Beyond the Check Box

June 20, 2017 1 Comments

She loves bubbles and baby dolls. Her favorite color is yellow. She is a quick learner and a compassionate friend. She has the most joyful laugh, and an infectious smile. And we wouldn’t have known any of these aspects of our daughter had we been scared off by one single word… Arthrogryposis. Her story began …Read More

Meet the Contributors: Andrea

June 19, 2017 0 Comments

Continuing today with our series in which we share a short Q and A with one of our contributors to give y’all, our faithful readers, a little more behind-the-scenes insight into the amazing group of writers assembled here. And it will also give each of our contributors a chance to share their heart in a …Read More

Jeremiah Waits for a Family

June 18, 2017 0 Comments

Get ready to be mesmerized by Jeremiah’s adorable chunky little cheeks! Jeremiah is a Special Focus child listed on Agape Adoptions’ individual list. Jeremiah is 1.5 years old and lives with a foster family. He is a cheerful, active, and restless little boy who loves to smile and laugh. Jeremiah is curious about toys that …Read More

More Than Meets the Eye

June 18, 2017 1 Comments

In honor of Father’s Day, the month of June is dedicated to Dads. During our Thoughts from the Dad series, we’ll feature stories written by fathers sharing their unique perspective on the journey of adoption. ……… “God is spirit and exists at the level of reality where the human heart, or spirit, also exists, serving …Read More

A Plan and a Purpose

June 17, 2017 0 Comments

The first time I saw him, he was ten months old, and we had gone to volunteer in the sweltering month of August. He was wearing not only a million-dollar smile, but double leg casts that stretched from his little hips to his tiny toes from a recent surgery. He was sweet, laid back, adorable. …Read More

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