Posts by Kim Van Brunt:
“I know better” is where I started, two years ago.
Someone sold me a bill of goods (except I was both seller and buyer), a mythology about adoption and what it all means in God’s big kingdom, but then I adopted and now I know better.
People get into adoption to join a movement and “rescue” a child, but I know better.
The orphan care movement stirs emotion and misguided action at best, and reinforces racial and socioeconomic stereotypes at worst.
But thank God I know better.
Thank you God, that I am not like other people…
-The Pharisee in Luke 18:11
I heard the voice of the adoptee stronger and clearer than ever, a light to lead the way.
I heard the story of a man who grew up in an orphanage in Kenya and described how his heart broke over and over when white people would visit and then never return. How he wasn’t considered one of the cute ones, so he was never picked up by these visitors. How his heart formed a shell after a while, how he never cried until he was an adult.
I soaked in the wisdom of Karyn Purvis, who swore at a Southern Baptist church to get her point across (and gave me another reason to love her forever): You have to deal with your own sh*t before you can help your child deal with theirs.
I learned about my son. I learned about my brother and my sisters-in-law. I learned about my family and my beginnings. I learned about myself.
* * *
This was my first Summit, and I’ll admit now that I was fearful before going. I’m writing this book about adoption, and I worried I’d be surrounded by people who knew so much more, had so much more experience and insight. I was afraid it would reinforce my self-doubt, my who-do-you-think-you-are thoughts that come when I sit down to write. I thought that instead of inspiration, I’d get paralysis when I came toe-to-toe with my own inadequacy again.
But it was different than that.
I did encounter people who knew so much, but it wasn’t so much that they knew more as it was that they knew differently.
Adoption is such a complex act. In it you experience a depth of loss you may have never felt before. You come face-to-face with some of your worst qualities. You find out how desperately you try to hold onto a semblance of control, and what a mirage it is. You see how deeply personal the entire thing is.
Because we’ve been through it now, and those illusions have been torn down. Now we know we are the ones being redeemed.
That when God sought us out, he knew that our children would be part of our redemption story.
* * *
It’s taken a couple of years, but I’m finally starting to see that it’s not as simple as I’m right and you’re wrong. In fact, I’m seeing that I’m chief among offenders. I see so clearly now how I need other opinions and varied perspectives to be able to zoom out and take in the big picture. It’s hard to write this, but I need to confess: I thought I knew better than you. Will you forgive me?
I’m arriving in one of those places you feel like God has been waiting for you for a while: It’s OK, my sweet girl, he whispers to me. It’s OK that it took you a while to get here, but I’m so glad you’re here. Humility is a better road for you.
It’s a road of asking hard questions but then really listening for the answers, or finding peace (and humility) in the not-knowing.
Adoption is about making all of us more human. Growing up in a family is a basic human right. Connection is what gives us our humanity. And I’m so thankful that because of Summit 9, I can see myself reaching out to those with whom I disagreed before. I can tell that I have something to learn from them, and we have something to give to one another. That together, we can give the world a holistic picture of adoption and orphan care and really at the foundation of it all — the love of Jesus.
Because when I say that connection is what makes us human, I mean love. God is love, and apart from him we can’t connect with each other, we can’t love, we can’t be human.
* * *
I don’t know better.
At Summit, I was both humbled and validated, because God confirmed that he has given me a fire in my belly about adoption and especially during- and post-adoption support for adoptive parents. That’s just where I land. That’s the need that I want to meet.
But I desperately need the adoptee voice.
I desperately need the prompting ministries that help people see their calling to adopt.
I desperately need the organizations working on the ground for family reunification and global orphan care.
I need all of them.
And I was validated that although I don’t know better, I know differently, too. I have a unique voice and part to play in this community.
And we might not always agree or get along, but that’s OK, too. That’s why God made us a family.
See you next year, Alliance family.
I’ve been honest when I talk about my struggle to attach to my son two years ago. You let me know I wasn’t alone.
For the last year especially, I’ve also been wrestling with knowing my own worthiness and owning my redemption story. With believing I’m good enough. With letting go of shame. I’ve shared a little about this, but not as much. It’s still so close, so tender.
But today, I learned that those two things are intricately connected. The one couldn’t be more related to the other, really. In hindsight, it couldn’t be more obvious.
I knew bits and pieces before. How I cannot give what I do not have. How my constant negative self-talk is still a form of narcissism. How I want to be about others. How I sometimes push my own kids and husband away when I feel too vulnerable, and how I know how destructive that is, how isolating.
* * * *
I had her book. I’ve read her articles. I’ve watched videos on her site.
But there’s nothing like the magic of being taught by Karyn Purvis in person.
Her pre-conference intensive at Summit 9 yesterday was phenomenal. This tiny, fire-in-her-eyes woman knows how to speak the truth well, and I thought I was going to learn about adoption and attachment, and I did, but I kept crying on and off because I was learning about myself. I was learning about my own brokenness and how it’s so easy to accidentally pass that down to my kids, to ask them to take responsibility for me in subtle, small ways. How if I’m not modeling connection and healthy relationship to them, they will not learn it. They literally cannot get it without me showing them.
Purvis teaches you about your children, yourself, your spouse, your parents. You feel like there’s a spotlight there on you in that room of hundreds of people, because she’s talking about you.
But the truth is, she’s talking about all of us. She’s talking about things we hold so close, we can’t even speak them aloud sometimes.
“You have to own your history with fierce honesty,” she said. “You have to tell your story completely. We need to do fierce work of our own so we can help our kids with their fierce work.”
* * * *
God has created us to crave relationship. Every child deserves a family so they can know safety, deep love and especially — their own preciousness. I see you. You are precious to me. I know who you are. No qualifications, not you’ll be worthy when you… , just worthy now. I see you. I know you. You have a voice.
And God keeps bringing it back to one theme: This life is about connection, about relationship, about love. When you take away connection, you take away the thing that makes us human.
Adoption is about connection, but more than anything, adopting a son has taught me more about my disconnection than anything I’ve done before or since. It’s forced some things to the surface, and it’s pushed me into my own fierce work.
What pushes you to do your own fierce work in your heart? Move towards it. Lean into it.
(Then share it with me in the comments.)
Next time we go to Uganda (which could happen sooner than I thought it might, stay tuned), it will be different.
On my third trip there, I will see it through new eyes. Specifically, my 9-year-old daughter’s.
Her empathy is deep and wide. Her heart will fall in love with the country and the continent, and I have a feeling it’ll be broken a bit by it, too. Like mine was. Like mine is.
I told a lovely group of women last week that we mothers are the vision-casters for our children’s lives.
Audrey has seen my dedication to Uganda and love for its people, and she wants to join the mission, too. I couldn’t be prouder. Not because I’ve done something in her, but because God has.
Africa is already part of our family, but after she experiences it for herself, I’m sure it will be part of her heart, too.
* * *
I have a confession: I judged too soon.
Thinking I knew the spirit and intent of the Christian Orphan Care Movement, I have written that I’m not sure I can support Orphan Sunday. That I’m not sure it’s a good idea to cast ourselves as the heroes and the “poor orphans” as the rescued. That I’m wary of what I viewed as too heavy a focus on the beginnings of things. (Or maybe that was my focus before actually adopting.)
I’m still conflicted about the movement as a whole, because I know that some families might want to join the movement and enter into adoption-as-mission, which makes children into projects, and that’s not healthy either.
But now I know something else: The Christian Alliance for Orphans is doing it right.
Next week (!!), I’m attending Summit 9, Christian Alliance for Orphans’ two-day conference on adoption, foster care and global orphan care initiatives.
I’m going to soak in the presence and calm that is Karyn Purvis and learn all I can about attachment. I will attend workshops on being a multi-racial family and hear from adoptees and orphan care/adoption advocates. I’m excited to see a screening of the documentary STUCK, and even get some ideas on how to use photojournalism in my creative work. I’m even going to a special Blogger Breakfast!
But one workshop I’m probably most excited about? Is called ‘Ministry is a Family Thing.’ About how families can cast a vision for service and mission across generations. Taught by Mary Beth Chapman and her daughter, Emily. As in, Steven Curtis Chapman’s Mary Beth Chapman. As in, adoptive mother, author, non-profit founder and one of my heroes. I’m so excited to sit and learn from her and her daughter.
And then maybe just a little while later, I’ll be taking my daughter to Africa.
* * *
Summit 9 has something for everyone who is touched by orphan care, adoption and foster care. They have a session for adoptive mothers coping with the emotional turmoil that often comes with adoptive parenting. There are workshops on special needs adoption, older child adoption, and even adoption disruption. If you’re looking to build an orphan care ministry in your church or community, there is plenty of information and resources here to get you started. There are tracks for pastors, adoption service professionals and child welfare professionals, too.
Besides connecting with some good friends in Nashville during my stay, it will be magical to connect with other adoptive families and advocates — just to breathe the same air with people who share my passion for adoption.
And maybe in a few years when she’s exploring God’s call on her life, Audrey will come with me to Summit, too.
Are you attending Summit 9? Leave a note in the comments and let’s meet up there!
“Oh hi! Are you the speaker?”
She was a young mom, cute short hair, button-down shirt, brightly colored denim. I was balancing a box of jewelry, my computer and purse in one arm and clutching my latte in the other.
I almost looked over my shoulder to see who she was talking to.
“Um, yes!” I managed. “I’m Kim. How are you? Where do I go?”
Just to be clear: I’m a writer, not a speaker. But when I was asked to speak to a lovely group of moms about Africa, or adoption, or whatever I wanted to, I found myself wanting to speak. I believe in words and their power to change hearts and minds and relationships, and isn’t speaking just the words aloud instead of on the page? So we set the date, I put it on the calendar, and when I began working on what I wanted to say, I found lots of words.
And I wrote all of them out (see above re: I’m a writer).
I was nervous, but not as much as I thought. I talked to them like I talk to my friends (because they felt like they were, already). I got lost a little and had to look sideways at my notes too many times (words escape me when they’re floating rather than down in ink), but everywhere I looked I saw engaged faces, eyes looking into mine, listening and open. It’s all I needed to let my guard down and just talk.
I talked about Jane, my inspiration now when I feel afraid.
I talked about the 12-year-old playing with the dinosaur at the crisis pregnancy center and how I still think of her.
I talked about my own moments of heart-gripping fear and how God’s grace pulled me through to the other side, and how it was like a rebirth.
They listened, and they really heard my heart. That’s all I’m looking for in my writing, too. I was surprised how the same it was, especially when I’m talking (or writing) about something I feel way deep in my bones.
I know so much of it depends on your audience, what you see in the faces you look out and see, and there I just got really lucky.
So thank you, women of Marshall MOPS, for receiving me with such grace and love. Thank you for caring about what I said and for receiving Africa with open hearts. Thank you for being lovely and wearing brightly colored denim and buying jewelry and giving so generously and talking about your deliveries and pregnancies and your kids and inviting me into your home base and sweet circles of friendship.
Guess what? Because of you, 121 women in Africa will have a safer birth. You absolutely saved lives this week. You helped mamas live. You helped prevent babies from becoming orphans.
That is definitely worth some awkward sideways glancing at notes and saying “um” too many times.
- – - – -
Speaking out was way more fun than I expected, and I’d like to do more of it. Please contact me if you’d like me to speak at your event.
She leaned in, touched my arm, opened her mouth and God spoke to me.
Right there in the middle of the party. Right there, drink in hand, after I had told her how difficult the last two months have been.
Praying so hard for the girl we thought was ours, asking others to pray, feeling the burden press down on my chest until my heart broke in the week before we heard it was over.
And I had to ask Jesus: What was that all for?
Why should I pray if this is the result? And what was that burning I felt to intercede if not for the miracle?
And then I shared just a sliver of this with a wise friend, and the Holy Spirit whispered to her and she said His words aloud: “You don’t know what your prayers did in her life. You just can’t see the difference they made.” She suggested that maybe we were matched with her, maybe all of it happened so that we could pray a miracle into her life at the moment she needed one.
Maybe the miracle happened, but it wasn’t for me.
And then we heard that the girl has been resettled, unexpectedly, with a family member. She is out of the orphanage. She is with family. And that’s all I wanted for her anyway.
Now instead of pain, gratitude. Instead of distrust, hope. Instead of disappointment, peace and awe that we could be part of her life at a time that mattered. That God would call us to love until it hurt, to intercede and see another sliver of his kingdom come.
And I wonder how many other miracles I miss because they don’t manifest the way I imagine? Because they’re not about me or in me or for me? How much more beauty and redemption could I be part of that won’t ever be about me? What a lovely, freeing thought.
How can a day be this full without me splitting from the weight of it? How does this one woman with a weak will keep her eyes on the eternal when the temporal is so very LOUD all the time?
Just this morning, I got two kids to school (after warnings that I wouldn’t remind them what they needed to do, then disappointment, then a tiny bit of yelling after a boomerang wooshed within centimeters of my face when ALL THEY’RE SUPPOSED TO BE DOING is getting snow pants on).
These are the mornings when the tears are freshly wiped dry before they jump from the minivan door and run into the building that will keep them for the next six hours, and every time I think What did I do wrong?
Then the two-year-old and I got groceries, which always involves a bit of shouting loud enough to fill the store (his, not mine this time) when the trip lasts longer than 20 minutes and he is finished with his cookie and is restless.
Then I drop him off with Grandma (oh sweet amazing grandma and wonderful freedom, but then am I really free?), race home, put away groceries, get supper in the slow cooker, eat a handful of candy, change into meeting clothes, and run out with my camera to the school building again, this time to take some photos for the yearbook, which is not started and is due in five days. I am sweating when I get back in the van and rush off to the meeting, for which I’m 10 minutes late, then come home and start the once-an-evening fight with the 6-year-old over homework, which I’m not crazy about either, but I’m not organized or creative enough to work out a homework exemption plan.
And now I think I’m partly writing this to get your sympathy.
Or to show what I accomplished today.
Which is not the point, but so much of this mothering is done invisibly, no? Sometimes I just want someone to see me.
While I was peeling the carrots for the slow cooker, right in the middle of this frantic day, I began singing.
I sang aloud, alone in my own kitchen, to stay afloat.
I danced through the prep while I glanced at the clock, singing truth louder than the din of busy:
I’m not every woman
It’s not all in me
I’m proud and guarded
When it comes to my needs
Try to keep the whole thing rolling
Try to keep an on-time train
This frenetic fascination’s really driving me insane
Anybody feel that?
I come to an end
I will not pretend
I still felt beat down by the end of the day. Its fullness, busyness and push wore me right down to the end of me. But then I arrived back here, in my neglected safe place, in this spot where I know I’m heard, valued, accepted, loved because He says it is so and it doesn’t matter what I did or didn’t do today. It matters not whether I measured up or found favor. For these tasks I’ve been given — yes, they’re important and valuable. But they do not make me important and valuable. I am worthy already. Worthy anyway. Worthy though I am finite, though days like this are too much.
Because like I learned in Africa, it’s when I finally come to the end of myself that I begin to see where He has been all along. When I can drop the facade of competence, of hustling and approval, then I see what he has seen all along: Worthy now.
Those things we thought we were holding so lightly, they’re so fragile, aren’t they?
And then if it comes to your worst fears, if your hopes are dashed and your heart is broken, you realize how you’d loved the dream of it all. Maybe you loved a person now gone. Maybe you’d imagined a life not yet there, but it was real to you.
Have you had a dream die, too? Have you seen it crumble and fall through your fingers? Have you wondered
Where are you, God?
How could you?
How can I trust you again?
If you have had to admit and own failure, you know. If you are adopting and you’re forced to change course, you know. If you’ve had a marriage fall apart before your eyes, you know. If your heart is longing for a child and you hope against better judgment month after month, you know. If someone so close, someone who feels like they’re in every part of you, is taken away, suddenly or even if you knew it was coming, you know.
God knows. He saw his dream fall apart, too, his design diminished, his perfect plan spoiled when his first babies turned their backs on him, lied, hid. Jesus knows what it’s like to feel abandoned by God, the God who’d sustained him, the God who had spoken to him, the God who had felt closer than his own skin. Jesus knows exactly how loud silence can be when all you want is the smallest whisper.
But in your pain, it’s hard to believe that God knows. In your bludgeoned heart, you most desperately want to be held by a God you can’t feel, a God you don’t understand anymore.
My heart was shot through last week, too. A dream died, and I think God could have done better with this one. I don’t believe that “it’s all for the best” necessarily, because sometimes it just isn’t. I’m still wrestling with him, swearing at him, beating my hands on his chest, asking him the hard things, the questions that will follow me for years. I’m asking even though I know they won’t all be answered. I’m asking to find peace in the not-knowing. I’m asking and crying because I know he grieves with me. I know he’ll hold me and weep with me. He’s sad for the brokenness that broke my heart, too.
Do you know how I know? Because he showed me. Over and over again.
He was in the hug of a friend I just happened to run into. He was in the messages from people I’ve never met, who have been through it, who are holding part of my sorrow, who are praying for me constantly. He was in the texts and encouragement of friends after I showed them my broken heart.
He was in it when I felt loved, and when their hearts were heavy with me, I knew His heart was heavy, too.
He was hugging me.
He was encouraging me with his Word.
He was making plans to give me something to look forward to.
He was texting me.
Because when they loved me, I could see how desperately He loves me.
I can see how their love — His love — is carrying me even now. I can see how His love will eventually, piece by piece, start to heal me.
I haven’t really talked about it here, but we’re in the process of adopting again, and last week we lost a referral. Pray with us that this sweet child’s future holds more than we could imagine or give.
God gently prods me awake, two days in a row. In the darkness I’m out, when wide awake with a feeling.
Time to get up.
I ignored it yesterday. I kept resting uneasy, turning over and over with the same thought pushing in. Get up. When I finally swung my feet down to the carpet, it felt like failure. I knew I had missed something. I wonder on young Samuel, missing it at first.
This morning, there it was again.
It’s all I’ve heard so far. I don’t even know what I’m supposed to be doing. Writing? Praying? Listening?
But here I am, so close to the dark pushing in from the windows, one table lamp to dispel the darkness, and coffee/blanket/screen/words. Every breath a prayer, senses wide awake and gathering.
Sometimes holy ground is born of obedience. I know this.
I have a lot to learn. And you teach me every day.
You, so close to your babyhood that I can still see
the crease in your neck where baby fat folded over,
Now stretched tall with a hint
of the woman to come in that chin/nose/cheekbone.
You, when secure in love
In knowing the person in front of you wants the best for you
Whether it’s me, your teacher, the babysitter, another mother volunteering, your entire class —
You tell it all.
You share all the details, you explain everything.
You give intimate family news out
Why wouldn’t you tell the world?
You’re proud. And you love to see the looks on their faces,
to bring them into our life, our love.
I gather all these things to my chest,
believing if I keep them there,
secret and safe,
it won’t hurt as much if it all falls apart
if my worst fears are realized
if my deepest hopes are dashed.
(Of course, that’s not exactly true. Or in any way true.)
Then at school events or the grocery store I get the questions
and the stories
and the details told back to me, exactly
as I’ve whispered to you
in your bed
Guarding myself against my own words
in the mouth of an almost-stranger
I wince at the way it feels like a vice
in my heart,
prying it open, letting someone see
the depth of my hope and the height of my fear.
It doesn’t feel like love when I’m so exposed
and afterward I feel naked —
You beam up at me, happy
that you spread the love around,
that so many people
now hope and dream with us.
And if it all falls apart,
they’ll help us carry our pain, too.
I have a lot to learn. And you teach me every day.
I’ve been quiet here, spending time inside my too-loud head for months now. Stuck is a word that comes to mind. Lost. Numb.
What am I doing here? What the hell am I really doing here, anyway?
It’s what happens when you find a spark and start building something, ignoring those gnawing doubts or those glaring red flags that warn trouble might be ahead. That you’re saying one intention, but your heart is saying another. That you want to help, but you also want to be read. No, more than that — you want to be noticed. You want to be validated.
You want to be made worthy.
And you believe (only now figuring it out) that you will finally find your worthiness if you build this beautiful space and pour out your words no less than three times per week, but maybe no more than five, and keep posts short, and ask a question at the end, and play all the games you’re supposed to play, get your analytics singing, build your following, it’s about influence.
No wonder I got burned out about once a month over the past year.
And then this winter, the great white-out. Burned allll the way out. I just haven’t been able to figure out what I have to say, or why it matters. At all.
And then, the whispers start.
This is always how I hear God. He starts in little whispers, things brought to mind, a light illuminating a corner and I am surprised at the very-familiar. It’s a revelation of sense-making when nothing of my words has made sense for months. Oh. Oh, yes. That’s right. I suppose that’s right. blink. blink.
And lately, the whispers — from all over, for that is where God is — the whispers are singing to me, calling me to remember my story, to tell it plain, reminding me that I’m not the only one who needs to hear it. That the desire to be understood isn’t the problem. The desire to make it my savior is.
But your story is still yours, and I’ve given it to you, and I’m asking you to tell it, God says. Don’t hide from the world the beautiful, painful, wondrous, piercing-and-mending thing I’m doing in you. Why be quiet about it? It’s so uniquely yours, and I’ve made it for your voice, yes this one, not hers and not hers and not his. Yours. My daughter. My beloved. Tell it true, and tell it loud.
Because I am already worthy, and I am already understood completely. And influence can be beautiful and life-giving (to others, not me). This space that has felt so dangerous is the safest place in the world, because everywhere is, because that is where God is. Because I am secure in his love. I rest in the palm of his hand, where grace lives.
And I can be an instrument here.
And instrument of his love, peace, grace. A voice in the darkness, a whisper to another spirit unknown.
Tell it true, and tell it loud.