Navigating Adoption, Part 5

Continued from Part 4

(And Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)


Getting Abigail home was a flurry of excitement and relief…for us. We were relieved to be home, eating American Mexican food, sleeping in our own beds, with all of our kids under one roof and excited to start our journey as a family of 6. But for Abigail, coming home was more like moving into a stranger’s house who ate weird food, spoke in a different language, and decided that they were now her boss.

Needless to say we had no idea what lay ahead of us that summer. I can honestly remember thinking that adopting an older child would be so EASY because they were already POTTY TRAINED and what in the world else is there that’s hard about parenting except for POTTY TRAINING. (Side note-I SUCK at potty training. Big time. Like we-should-have-bought-stock-in-pull-ups-a-long-long-time-ago suck.) So here we were, at home with this GORGEOUS, tiny little girl and now we could just move on with our life as a complete family. No more pregnancy tests, adoption paperwork, or perusing the interwebs for waiting children. We were done. So let’s just make family dinners, go on picnics, and sign them up for soccer. Done.

But those first few months were HARD. Quite possibly the hardest few months of my entire life. All four kids were home for the summer and my sweet Abigail had SO MUCH to process and grieve. I know we don’t like to think negatively of the adoption process, but there is just so much loss and heartache and confusion for these sweet kids. Can you imagine being totally uprooted at THREE YEARS OLD? Without being able to communicate with those now in your charge? I had a ton of moments of being TOTALLY and completely overwhelmed. I felt ill equipped to help her and still be available for my other kids. I thought I could just parent her like I did the other three and she would magically forget her grief and anger and confusion. And when that didn’t work I decided we needed back up.

John and I were desperate to find some help. Someone who could help us understand what Abigail was going through and to be able walk this road with her.

Enter Karyn Purvis. Or as I like to call her, Mary Poppins.

We went on a weekend retreat to a conference called “Empowered to Connect” and were floored by how much Karyn knew about Abigail without ever having met her. Dr. Purvis has made it her life mission to understand children from hard places and to help families to be able to create an environment where they flourish and grow into who God made them to be.

Here’s a 4 minute sample of what Dr. Purvis teaches about connection…


Honestly, her teaching is transformative for ALL parents and kids – not only those from hard places. If you aren’t familiar with her work, start with her book The Connected Child. I promise – it’s a game changer.

We came back from that weekend ready to dive into her world and meet her there. Not for the purposes of changing her behavior, but solely to connect. We put in the work required to help her navigate her emotions as best she could at such at a young age. We cried with her. We held her even when she sometimes said she didn’t want us to. We learned what made her laugh and what made her dance. We took her to the Ethiopian restaurant in town (well, her Daddy did because Mama just can’t with the injera…another post, another day). We showed her pictures of her past when it was appropriate. We talked about Ethiopia. We snuggled. We drank coffee in the afternoons together. And we gave her space when she needed that, too.

The truth is we STILL have to remind ourselves that she carries inside of her this whole other story that we don’t get to know. This family that loved her, this country that was familiar, this language that she knew. I would give anything to have even a glimpse into what her life was like before coming to us. To know what she looked like as a baby, to watch her take her first steps, to hear her say her first words. But we’ll never get that back, and neither will she. That’s the hard stuff of adoption.

Oh – and the hair. The hair is also hard. I worked really hard to get this very first row, y’all. Check out my 2010 stylings…


That only took me 6 days.

So I got smart and just started having Vanja do it.

Back Camera

And I found out that apparently it’s not supposed to take 6 days. Whatever, you can do her whole head in two hours Vanja, but can you watch three seasons of Mad Men in ONE WEEK? That’s what I thought. Play to your strengths people.

We have learned so much over these past 5 years with Abigail. And not just about her and parenting, but about ourselves. She is an INCREDIBLE kid. I’ve never seen a kid with more grit, tenacity, selflessness and optimism as this kid. She is the first to share and the last to complain. Her laugh at physical comedy makes ME want to fall down the stairs. And her grip around your neck when you hug her can fill you up for days.

Abigail means “Joy of the Father” – and I cannot think of a more appropriate namesake for this child.

She is a joy.

We had no idea what we were getting into in 2010, but who ever really does? So thankful that God was and is patient with our imperfections as we learn what it means to be family. And I’m thankful for a husband who is constantly engaged with the hearts of our kids. We screw up ALL the time. Like daily. But I’m learning that it’s not the screw-ups that define your relationship to your spouse or your kids. It’s the moments afterwards. The I’m-Sorrys and the I-Love-Yous and the Lets-Play-Uno-for-the-Thousandth-Time-Today-Because-I-Want-to-Do-What-You-Want-to-Do. Those are the things that stick.

Adoption has been an incredible part of our story – but our stories don’t end at Gotcha Day. In fact, that’s usually when they are just beginning…




2 thoughts on “Navigating Adoption, Part 5

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