I’ve learned a lot about God from being a parent. As a dad, I have a glimpse of what unconditional love must feel like. I have an almost unreasonable hope for each of my kids. And I hurt deeply when they hurt.
Just the same, I’ve learned a lot about God over the last year and half on our journey to adoption. But I’ve learned even more about US and how WE respond to God (as His children) than anything else: Initial excitement and hope followed by overwhelming confusion, unreasonable fear, and even conditional rejection.
Let me explain.
To be at the transition house in Ethiopia is an amazing thing. The children are playful. Everyone is hugging everyone. Affection expressed. Laughter. “Mommy” and “Daddy” are terms of endearment offered with hopeful exuberance. You can’t help but think, “This is gonna be great! Our kids love us. They want to be held. They appreciate our gifts. I dare say, this might just be easy for us!”
When we first took our daughter (Remy Matawi) from the transition home in Ethiopia it was all giggles and smiles. We drove off with her donning her new shoes and a pink backpack that held everything she owned. On the way to the home where we’d be staying for the week she sat in Jen’s lap with eyes wide open, observing everything that passed by her window. She was adorable.
As we arrived at our destination and the cab drove away, something happened. Terror struck the heart of our little girl… and to say the least… she had a meltdown. She tightly latched onto Jen with both arms and legs, calling for me, eventually clinging to both of us with tears pouring down her cheeks. It became obvious that she was not only deathly afraid of her new environment, but she was also fearful that we were going to leave her there.
The next 24 hours were a blur. She pulled out of it pretty quickly after realizing we weren’t going anywhere (A shuffle through a suitcase filled with her new clothes didn’t hurt either).
Here’s how Jen put it in a recent BLOG:
As soon as the three of us went to our room for the night, and it became clear we were all staying, she popped right out of that shell. She giggled and chattered and did her little Ethiopian dance (the cutest thing you’ve ever seen). She tried on clothes and played with her toys and fawned all over us, yammering the whole time about who knows what. The three of climbed into bed together, Remy sandwiched between us, and she was the happiest little lark in all the land. For 15 minutes, it went like this:
Mommy, I love you so much!
Doddy, I love you so much!
Mommy, Doddy, Matawi.
Mommy, Doddy, Matawi, Beniam, Gabin, Sinney, Cilab.
*She kisses her hand and puts in on my face.*
*She kisses her hand and puts in on Brandon’s face.*
*She puts our hands to our lips and then to her face.*
Mommy, I love you so much!
Doddy, I love you so much!
Mommy, Doddy, Matawi!
It was adorable. But day two was different. Not for Jen. But for me.
Matawi continued to show unbridled affection for Jen. But something happened in her little mind that flipped a switch regarding me. I’ll never forget the moment waiting at the American Embassy for our appointment when I looked at her and said, “Ewedishale hu” (I love you in Amharic).
She looked at me. Scrunched her nose. Waved her finger at me and said, “No, Daddy. No Ewedishale hu”. From that moment on she wouldn’t let me touch her.
Ouch. Seriously. OUCH. I was embarrassed. I felt confused. I was hurt. And I didn’t know what to do. So I blew it off like a tough guy and said, “Okay, Matawi. It’s okay. I love you.”
As she clung to Jen’s neck she replied, “No, Daddy! Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah…”
I got the lecture of my life in Amharic and had no idea what she even said. But whatever it was, she meant every word of it. And it was obvious she was serious.
The next day at the transition home we had an opportunity to sit down with the psychologist. He’s a brilliant young doctor who stands about 5’2” and simply adores the children. And they adore him. After a few moments of discussion, dialogue on how the kids are doing, and him explaining what was next on our journey, I shared with him what was happening between Matawi and me. He wasn’t surprised. And began to engage her in discussion on what she was feeling.
The tones of his words were soft and encouraging. The inflections in his voice brought comfort (to even me, and I didn’t know what he was saying). Then he turned to me.
“She says that she’s afraid you will hurt her.”
My heart stopped.
He continued, “It’s okay. This is common. You must understand that to her, “daddies” are unsafe. But she will change. She will learn to trust you. It may take a while. But she will.”
This is why the coming weeks and months are so important at the Hatmaker house. It’s why we need to be home and be together as a family as much as possible. We hope she sees a healthy and safe family. Even more so, we hope she FEELS a healthy and safe family. And daddy.
100% of the dads I’ve met so far who have adopted little girls from Ethiopia have experienced this. Matawi is deeply wounded. And while I hate that this is her story, knowing the reason for her distrust helps me process it. It allows me to not take it too personal (or at least it helps… some). And it gives me some hope. But it still hurts. Bad.
She continues to keep me at arms length, but somehow and for some reason, when I just start to feel like maybe she would be fine living without me, she throws me a bone. Like the moment when we were in the airport cafe and I stepped away to grab some WiFi. When she realized I was gone, tore down the terminal, yelling for me. Here’s the text I got from Jen:
“Remy is screaming for you and crying. Come back!”
This was weird. One, in my selfishness, it comforted me. I’m the grown up. I should not celebrate affection that spawns from her insecurity. But it just felt good knowing that while she was keeping me at arms length… she still wanted me within arms length. This is a good sign of things to come.
Since then, she does little things to show she really does need me. Pining for my approval on something she draws or writes. She’ll call out “Daddy” to draw my attention when she knows she’s done something good. While she still doesn’t allow touch unless she initiates it, this is good. In fact, it’s real good. And it gives me a glimpse into her little mind and heart.
I’m experiencing some emotions that I never knew existed. It’s like another world of feelings that blindside you repetitively, like a rollercoaster of ups, downs, loops, and turns. As with most things, I’m finding that adoption for dads is a different experience than for moms. That’s neither a good or bad thing. It’s just different. And there is much to learn from each of our experiences.
I love this journey. I love seeing Matawi attach to Jen. I love seeing my children and her interact and bond. I love seeing her “process” me. And somehow, deep within me, I sense through it all the seedlings of her restoration. I’m reminded as I consider the cross that things of great value come at great cost. And there is nothing to fear.
“The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” – Romans 8:15
Many have said that adoption offers a perfect picture of our relationship with God. I wonder if it’s not even a better picture than the natural parent/child relationship. When I apply how I feel after pouring out so much of myself over the past year and a half, and I consider the journey it took to become her father, I get an even deeper glimpse of how God may see us. Even more so, I’m seeing how in our woundedness and humanity, we may wrongly perceive God.
Matawi does not yet see me as I am. She sees me through the lens of her experiences. And they are unreasonable. I’m not going to hurt her. She can trust me. I love her and cannot wait for the day that she fully understands that.
God, forgive me when I keep you at arms length. I know you’re more secure than me. But I know you want me to trust. Help me to always see you as you are, not as I project you to be. Forgive my distrust. Forgive me when I look at you through my experiences and my pain and not through the lens of your truth. Heal my woundedness and insecurities.
Help Matawi to see me the same way. Help me to be the father she needs me to be.