Every now and then I like to grab a piece of paper and sketch out a little something called an Eco-Map. You do this, too, right? I’m not the only one, am I?
I confess; I have an inner social worker who gets all excited dreaming about the village that gathers around to support, love on and encourage adopting families. Maybe you had the pleasure of crafting one of these bad boys during your home study process, or maybe you’ve never even heard of an Eco-map. Either way, grab some colorful markers and a blank piece of paper and let’s have a little fun.
The first time I sketched up an Eco-map, it was the year 2000 and Dean and I still looked like teenagers. Our babies were itty bitty, and we hadn’t a clue what was just around the next bend in the road. God had etched a vision on our hearts that year, and we were pushing our way through stacks of paper, interviews and trainings trying to check off the long list of to-dos that ended in approval.
One night early in the home study process, our social worker handed us a blank piece of paper with a circle in the middle and asked us to write our names and the names of our two boys in that circle. Dean, Tamara, Blake and Tate. I probably should’ve made that circle bigger. Oh, this all seems like yesterday and a million years ago, at the same time. I could get lost in daydreaming about those early days of our family as God first called us to care for hurting children, but I’m going somewhere with this little exercise here. So take up a pen and scribble out your peoples’ names in the center of the page. Then wrap your treasures up with a circle drawn with any color you like.
That first night we spent a good part of a half-hour drawing smaller circles around our little family to map out all of our connections with extended family, friends, health care providers, church, businesses, social groups, and sports activities. You can do this, too. Come on – it’s fun! I used different color ink for each circle to make it pretty, but you draw yours however you like. I don’t remember everything that was said that night as we journeyed through the preparation for foster parenting, but I remember this activity and its message so clearly. Families thrive when they are connected to a village that comes alongside and says, “I’m here for you!”
In the years that followed our family grew and changed in so many ways, as we experienced God’s presence and joy in new ways. We also experienced challenges and emotions we never expected, and I often found myself feeling isolated and lonely. At times it seemed like not many around us really understood the joys and challenges of our journey. Hindsight is a powerful thing because I know now that what I longed for in that season of my life was the village that God surrounds our family with now. His fingerprints are all over the place. The Eco-Map of our village today represents God’s handiwork, a picture of answered prayer and His faithfulness.
The first circle we added to our map was for our agency. These beautiful people came alongside us and guided us through the highs and lows and the ins and outs of foster care and adoption. They assessed us and made recommendations; they educated and prepared us; they celebrated with us; and grieved losses with us. Our social worker answered countless calls and spent hours in our living room getting to know our family. She listened to us, grew us, and shared our greatest joys and some of our deepest tragedies. It wasn’t long before she had her own circle and was a solid member of the village, too. Go ahead and add circle for your agency or social worker to your map.
In time, God began to use our journey to work intricate details into the vision He had etched onto our hearts long ago. My longing to surround myself with people who understood changed to a desire to surround others with that kind of support. I took the vision God gave us with me to college and soaked up everything I could about people and hardship and helping. A class in Family Dynamics introduced me to the Attachment Cycle in a way I hadn’t seen it before, and my heart filled with hope for my children and other children from hard places. God led me into ministry with an organization passionate about training and education, and I went out to Texas to learn TBRI from Drs. Purvis and Cross. Our village was forever changed as a result, but I’d need 3000 more words to do that story justice. I added a circle to our map to represent the knowledge and experiences gained through the gifted educators and colleagues that God then used to shape the gifts and talents He had given me. Take some time to think about what experiences and knowledge God has given you the opportunity to gain and add a circle to represent them on your map.
One of the prettiest circles on our Eco-Map today is labeled professional help. I made it pretty and prominent because we’ve needed a LOT of it over the years. As we added little ones struggling mightily with attachment issues, God prepared the road ahead with a therapist who knew firsthand the pain of a difficult attachment. I made that circle small at first, but it quickly grew. With it grew a hope that invaded our own village and trickled over into the villages of others as I shared the insights I had gained from her with anyone who would listen. Do you have a circle for professional help or resources that have been like gold to you through your journey? Add that circle to the map.
As our family grew bigger and bigger, God continued to shape the interactions we had with others as He breathed more life into our vision. We began to pray that God would use our family to bless others sharing similar journeys, and we rejoiced when He knit us together with other families caring for vulnerable children. Fifteen years into our adoption story, I look back over my shoulder and see the loneliness in the distance behind us. Beside us are villagers who practice coping skills and new ways of parenting, who study the impact of abuse, neglect and trauma, who go to battle to advocate for the needs of their precious ones, and most importantly who believe there is hope for the child from hard places.
As God connected us with families raising children whose needs were similar to those of our sons and daughters, we added them to our village, too. As He drew around me sister-friends who cry together, laugh together, study God’s word together, worship together and point their children toward Christ together, the village became a place that reflects more and more His glory and brings joy unspeakable. I added a circle to represent these new relationships that have become so much a part of who we are. If God has added new relationships to you along your journey, don’t forget to give them a circle. Whether you’re praying about a call to adopt, you’re early in the adoption journey, or you’re an adoptive parent who feels alone, leave room on the page for this circle and pray for God to add people to the village. He is always faithful.
One of the greatest privileges God has allowed me (as a social worker) and us (as a family) is the opportunity to share the adoption journey with so many families and to become a circle on their maps. He has opened doors to ministry where our gifts, talents, education, and experiences can be used for His glory to encourage and equip those around us, where we can all thrive in a village where His presence is tangible. He has blessed us with opportunities to share challenges and the joys of His handiwork in the lives of others.
I’m in awe of the way God has woven beautiful circles together in a way that glorifies and honors Him and confirms again and again how He’s working in our lives and in the lives of those in our village.
I can’t wait to see your maps, if you’d like to share, and celebrate with you the village God is growing up around you and yours. May God bless you on your journey, and may your journey glorify Him.
– guest post by Tamara Robinson, LMSW