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6 Lessons I learned About God as an Adoptive Mom That Every Parent Needs to Know (Part One)

By Barbara Rainey

First posted on

Stepping into the hotel lobby, I took a deep breath and exhaled. After traveling all day I was more than ready to be done with crowds of strangers and airline demands. Happily I stood with the luggage a few steps from the front desk while Dennis checked us into our hotel.

Moments later with room keys in hand, Dennis extended his arm toward me with a pink slip of paper. Glancing at it I read, “Call Dr. Smythe immediately.” We didn’t know a Dr. Smythe, but we did know a Dr. Smith who was my ob-gyn doc.

Instantly I knew this had nothing to do with our four kids at home. It had to mean he knew about a baby. My heart rate increased and suddenly I wasn’t fatigued anymore. Could this message mean a baby was available for adoption?

We called as soon as we got to our room and heard our friend explain that a teenage girl was in labor, the baby would be relinquished for adoption, and all had agreed this baby was for us. That phone call was the first of many unexpected surprises, wonders, and miracles God was orchestrating for us.

I thought of nothing else all weekend. My prayers were for this soon-to-be-bereaved young woman, for confirmation of God’s leading, and for God to give us a name fast! When we arrived home a few days later we were the proud parents of five.

When we brought home this baby girl, Deborah, we had no idea what God had in mind for us … ALL of us. We only knew this was clearly and unmistakably His plan for her and our family. During her life I have learned more about the heart and character of God than I could have any other way. I will be forever grateful for His beautiful, all-things-for-good idea of adoption.

But adoption isn’t just about settling the solitary, the orphan, in a home (Psalm 68:6). Among His many purposes is His desire to reveal who He is as Father and Savior. And this desire is for all parents, not just adoptive parents.

Here are three life-changing lessons God kindly taught me about Himself that all parents need to know and believe.

1. God will rarely if ever overrule the free will of man.

A young boy decided one evening he didn’t like sitting in his chair at the dinner table but preferred instead to stand. His parents reminded him of the rules, the consequences, and then of their willingness to compel his compliance with a spanking. Slowly this small person slid down in his chair.

Dad was especially pleased he had won the battle of the wills, nodded his approval of his son’s decision, and resumed eating. A minute later this small human broke the silence by announcing to his parents, “I may be sitting down on the outside but I’m standing up on the inside!”

This decades-old story will remain forever true because every human has been gifted a free will. Parents can only do so much, or maybe it’s so little, to control that free will.

Even the best parenting will not guarantee children who won’t rebel and push parents out of their lives. After all God is the perfect parent and all His kids have rebelled.

My mistake with all our children, including our adopted daughter, was assuming if I played by God’s rules He’d keep His promises to bless us. I thought He’d control their sinful desires, aka free will, and He’d prevent them from making significant mistakes.

I knew we weren’t perfect parents but I did make assumptions about God that were presumptuous.

Starting in sixth grade our daughter began making some small decisions that were not in line with what we’d taught her. Several years later she was struggling with her identity, as most teens do, but her struggle was compounded by the unknowns of her adoption story.

By the end of high school she’d pushed us away. We responded over these years with increased communication, continued disciplines, increased prayer, fasting for a year, reading and researching solutions and helps, and dozens of other attempts to intercede in her life for her good. It seemed to us that nothing worked.

Today she is 40 and we can see in hindsight that much of what we did was effective, but not in our expected time frame. We wanted dramatic, instant and permanent change we could measure. But God was at work with the whole of her life in mind. We saw only today.

I’ve learned that nothing I could have done would have overruled her free will because God will not overrule the free will of man. Only God could reach her heart and only He knew how to accomplish that miracle of His grace. Only He knew the timing of her life and when she would turn to Him.

The first lesson is God doesn’t overrule the free will of our children and oddly to our way of thinking He seems content to let them suffer heartache and pain. Why does He do this when the consequences for so many are life long?

2. God sees the L O N G view of life and desires that we choose Him of our own free will.

Like most Christian parents we knew, we imagined the end result of parenting would be an 18-year-old who graduated from high school alive, safe, and healthy—ready for life in every way—and most of all ready to follow Jesus’ plan for her life.

But our adopted daughter didn’t follow the traditional path. She chose a path that for a season wasn’t wise, and decided not to choose Jesus’ way.

I felt like I’d failed as a parent, as her mom. Those were terribly painful days for me. But God saw the future. He knew what was ahead. He taught me how to wait through the story of Moses who, it says in Hebrews 11:24, “when he grew up … chose to endure ill-treatment with the people of God rather than the passing pleasures of sin.” Another verse (Acts 7:23) says Moses was about 40 when he decided to visit his people the Israelites.

God was willing to wait on His child Moses’ decision to choose Him. He wants me to wait on His timing and plans for all my children, too. He loves them more than I do and wants them to know Him more than I do. Sometimes we feel we need to keep helping our adult children to choose God’s way, but often times He can do more without our help!

3. My good work and my heart’s sincere desires are not enough to shape my child and guide her to follow God.

All parents, but especially adoptive and foster parents, begin their journey fervently believing they can love enough, care enough, and be enough for their children. We hope and pray they won’t just survive but thrive. We pray desperately they will avoid the common traps traumatized children often face. We love them so much we want to spare them as much pain and suffering as possible.

But I have learned by watching my child make life altering choices that we cannot.

God’s ways are higher than mine and far wiser too. Isaiah 55:8-9 tells us, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” I’ve learned a very important lesson: God wants me and my child to understand that He alone is enough. If I am enough for my child she will never need God.

Parenting is a partnership with God. The challenge is remaining dependent on Him while working out all the tests and trials of being mom and dad without slipping into believing it all depends on us.

Stay tuned for part two next Monday. I’ll talk about how to remain hopeful as a parent and an interesting little truth I’ve learned about us women that impacts our parenting and all of our lives!

You can learn more about biblical parenting is the book Dennis and I wrote, The Art of Parenting. It’s also available as a video study.

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