My name is Kristen Richburg, and I have two children: Anne (13) and Benjamin (12). We are a part of Hope Boulder (Boulder Flatirons Foursquare Church) in Boulder, Colo.
After having two children just a year apart, my then husband and I were sure we wanted to add another child to our family. But my second pregnancy had been difficult, resulting in a labor and delivery that almost took my life. I am an adoptee, so the thought of adopting a child felt like a natural fit.
The Bible says we are adopted into God’s family. It also says we are called to care for orphans and widows. I, too, was once a child without a home or a family of my own. We felt God’s calling on us to be on the giving end of adoption.
We pursued international adoption and, after months of waiting, a little girl was referred to us from Thailand. We received our first pictures of her when she was just 13 months old, and were thrilled to be embarking on the journey of becoming adoptive parents.
Before heading to Thailand, we met with a therapist in town who specialized in working with adoptive families. I have a degree in social work, so I knew we would deal with some attachment issues and wanted to learn more about how to help our daughter transition home. We believed we were entering into the adoption process with our eyes wide open.
We prayed for her protection, safety and for her foster family. We believed, at the time, they were loving her and preparing her for us, her forever family. We prayed for her grief, because we were certain that once we went to get her, she would face enormous sadness saying goodbye to the only family she knew to come live with ours.
It took me the next several years to realize that no amount of information, education, knowledge or driving determination could have prepared me for the experience of living with and trying to raise a child who had been as traumatized and hurt as our daughter.
In the five years she was with us, she continued to unfold as a mystery. With the help of numerous therapies and diagnoses, it became clear to us that up until the time we met her, she had been in a home where the care for her was at best neglectful, and most likely abusive.
How I wanted to help her heal, to save her, to teach her to trust in our love for her. My heart broke for her, and for us. Our home became a place of chaos, struggle and grief.
Our daughter learned at a young age that people were not to be trusted. The only way for her to survive was to make sure she got what she needed while protecting herself from getting too close to anyone. People who cared for her, after all, would eventually hurt and neglect her.
She had learned those rules of survival much too young, and she applied those same rules to us. To her, protecting oneself meant, “I’ll do whatever it takes to hurt you before you have the chance to hurt me.”
She viewed our other children as a threat and, to our disappointment and grief, in a few short years had become a danger to them—so much so, that our home was no longer a place where they were safe. With the help of a therapist, we began to see that something had to be done.
My protective mothering instincts were great. But the thought of relinquishing my daughter was overwhelming and filled me with fear. The guilt and feelings of failure were sometimes too much to bear. But I ultimately realized that the decision to relinquish our daughter was best for her, too. She was unable to thrive in our home, living with other children.
After months of heart-wrenching prayers and cries for mercy, we came to the decision to relinquish her. The grief of losing a child in this way was traumatic and broke my heart. Not only was it the loss of a child, it was the loss of a dream.
Our adopted daughter was a gift from God. I had believed that from the beginning. Only God could reveal the ways in which my daughter truly was a gift. I thought she would be with us forever. God had other plans.
Because of her I learned real, tangible lessons of grace. I was forced to understand who it is that I am, apart from the labels the world and we attach to ourselves. Her presence in our home, while challenging, fostered growth for us in ways we never could have imagined. I can only hope and pray that, in some way, we were a gift to her, too.
I’ll never forget the day we said goodbye. I’ll never forget the look of excitement she had in her eyes about her new mom. And I’ll never forget the sadness I felt in the deepest part of my soul.
Only God could take a brokenhearted mother like me and mend the broken pieces. Only His grace and love were enough to cover us all. God is still good. His Word is still true. I’m still waiting to see the fullness of the beauty from these ashes, but my hope is in the only One who can completely restore and heal.
Read more about Kristen’s adoption experience and what she learned from it in her book, Disrupting Grace: A Story of Relinquishment and Healing (VMI Publishers). For more information on Kristen, visit her website.