Darby Strickland & Jill Butler – Expert Contributors
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Hello and welcome to the Safe to Hope podcast. My name is Ann Maree and I’m the Executive Director for HelpHer and the host of this podcast. On the Safe to Hope: Hope Renewed in Light of Eternity podcast, we help women tell their story with an eye for God’s redemptive purposes. All suffering is loss, but God leaves nothing unused in His plans. We want to help women see His redemptive thread throughout their circumstances, and then look for opportunities to join with God in His transformational work.

In the Help[H]er ministry, we work with women and churches in multiple types of crises. So this season, we’re branching out from talking about abuse to talking with a foster mom, a mother of five beautiful children ages six months through seven years. There is a common theme in our podcasts though, and that is trauma and how it impacts families and people in a variety of ways. Caroline storyteller is one woman who has both witnessed and experienced trauma in a different way. We also chose this series because foster families populate even evangelical communities. So our hope is to share with the church, how they can come alongside and care for the very unique needs of both the parents, the children biological and foster children and adoptees in these families.

I know you will recognize one of our expert contributors today. I know she’s familiar to our Safe to Hope audience and that is Darby Strickland. She’s a frequent guest. She’s a Help[H]er board member, which we very much appreciate. But I’d also like you to meet Jill Butler. There’s going to be three of us on the on the podcast today. Jill is the director of operations at CCEF, and she’s also a counselor at CCEF. And she served in that capacity since 2021. Jill is also an online instructor for the School of Biblical Counseling, and she has a Master of Arts in Counseling from Westminster Theological Seminary. Jill has been counseling for over 12 years in the local church as well as over four years in a biblical counseling center. So welcome to you both. I’m very interested to hear what we have to say today and how it relates to some of the things that our storyteller has been sharing with us.

So just quickly, by way of reminder, on the Safe to Hope podcast, storyteller names have been changed in order to protect those associated with their stories. The Help[H]er ministry exists to help people in crisis and to train people helpers so integrity is one of our greatest concerns. To the best of our ability, we have sought to honor the privacy and dignity of those who share their precious stories with us.

And today, that’s going to include one of our expert contributors. And I’m just going to start out with that. Jill, has a very, very compelling story that I think we need to hear. And I would love if you could tell us a little bit or a lot of who you are. Tell us about you, tell us about your journey, whatever you think is important.

Jill

Thank you for the opportunity. Yeah, so my story is one that has I’ve grown to be able to share it. It did take some time for me to be able to talk about some of these things. So I want to say as I share today, this this speaks to years of the Lord walking with me through by his Spirit, and the church and friends along the way.

So I was born in the 80s. I was one of those crack babies that came out of the 80s epidemic. Both my biological parents, I want to say have heartbreaking stories. There was significant abuse in their home. They both struggled with addiction and had severe poverty in their background. I’m the only child between my biological parents. I’m the oldest of eight children that my biological mom had. And sadly, she did lose all eight of them to the child welfare system. I was born addicted to cocaine. But I was allowed to actually go home with my birth mother that day because she had promised that she would stop using. And again, this was back in the 80s. This would not happen now.

So the first time I was removed from her, I was three months old. And the police report says  that they were called because the baby had stopped crying. And so the neighbor was actually scared that something had happened to me. And so that was the first time I was removed. And from the time I was three months old until the time I was a little over five, I went back and forth between my biological mom and my adoptive family.

My adoptive family had five biological boys of their own, and they had a really difficult home. They struggled relationally and my parents struggled relationally. During the final stages of my adoption case, one of their sons wrote a letter to the judge stating some of the abuses that were sadly going on in that home with me and with them and asked for the adoption to not go through. And yet again, this was the 80s. There was this family who was willing to take, by that time, a school-aged child with such a high need that there wasn’t the discernment that was needed to be able to make a different choice. And so, I was adopted into that family. I can remember on my adoption day, the judge calling me into his chambers, and asking me which mom did I want? And just feeling overwhelmed by that question, feeling like I didn’t want to have to choose at that time even though I’d been going back and forth for five years.

My understanding and my attachment to my biological mom was still strong. And yet I had this new relationship with my adoptive family, and just feeling like there wasn’t there wasn’t an easy choice. And now looking back on that going, “Yeah, that was not a question that I should have been asked. It wasn’t a helpful question. But I think it also speaks to how the judge saw the situation. He saw a drug-addicted woman who couldn’t provide basic needs. And he saw an upper middle-class family who was, by his assessment, able to provide the physical needs. So it was an easy decision for him to make.

I was adopted. My adoptive parents still required me to spend time with what they would called my real family even after the adoption was done. And that was really hard and scary for me. Even that they put it in that framework of my real family spoke to the fracture that I was living out of as a little person of realizing that there wasn’t a place of security, there wasn’t a place of belonging.

Sadly, one of the forms of discipline in my house growing up was that I would be required to go pack a bag. They would just say, “Jill go pack a bag.” And I had this pink 80’s suitcase, that I’d pack all the way until I was 14. If I was sassy, or something happened that they didn’t like, they would make me go and pack the bag as if they were going to give me back. So I lived with a constant state of “Was I home?” “Was I secure?” “When was this going to end?” And the difficulty of that relationally impacted how I saw every relationship, not just the people who are doing it. And so I felt really unsteady.

This is where I have to say that the Lord was so gracious to me by providing me teachers who knew the Lord. They cared for me. I became a Christian in junior high and the church knew that I wasn’t safe at home, but they didn’t know why. I wasn’t someone who spoke about what was going on at home. I knew pretty quickly that what my home looked like wasn’t what other people’s houses looked like. And so what I learned, and I had even learned this going back and forth in foster care that if I speak about what’s going on at home, that’s going to change where I sleep that night, that’s going to change who I call mom the next day, that’s going to change where I go to school the next day. And so though everyone was telling me to speak, the consequences of me speaking were actually bringing about things that felt very out of control to me.

I didn’t always agree with what the consequence of me speaking would mean, and so I just learned not to tell my story actually. I learned not to talk about it. I learned to either literally not speak when someone asked me a specific question or give them some sort of vague answer that I think they really wanted to hear. Because it would get me out of having to actually talk about the things that were going on.

I had a really phenomenal youth pastor, and I remember him saying to me, after many times of asking me, “What’s going on?” Or “Jill, something’s not right.” Or he noticed different behaviors or times where I withdrew when I just didn’t answer him. And so finally he sat me down, and he said, “Jill, I know something’s not right at home, but I don’t know what it is.” “Will you tell me?” And I didn’t speak. And so after a long enough awkward silence, he said, “I don’t know what it is, but we’re gonna give you a safe place to go every night.”

And so the church came alongside and arranged that, on Monday night, I would go to this family’s house, on Tuesday night, I would go to this family’s house. And literally, Sunday through Saturday, they divided three or four families between the week that if something happened or if I wasn’t doing well, I could just show up at their house. And there wouldn’t be questions asked but this family would just care for me. And that’s what these families really did.

It didn’t happen every week. But it did happen on occasion. I played sports all the way through high school, and my family never came to practices or games or anything like that. I was lucky enough to actually be able to go to our districts and even to state and two of these families ended up coming and supporting me. And that was just one of the ways that, as I look back in my story, I’m able to see how the Lord’s hand was always there in a place of provision, even if it didn’t come in the way that I would have wanted or desired or had hoped for.

So fast forward to even a few years ago, I was visiting my adoptive dad, and we’ve had a very complicated relationship from the time that I was adopted. He worked a lot. My mom was very abusive to all of us children. And my dad just was very passive in that. He traveled a lot for work. He was very, very successful in his job, and how he managed the home was just passivity and escapism. So we’ve had seasons where we didn’t speak. And we’re currently in a season to where we do have a relationship and I had gone home to see him and his new wife. My mom passed away eight years ago now.

And he brought out this huge briefcase full of all of my adoption paperwork. My social worker had been decent friends with my parents, and she had made copies of everything that would have been in my file. So it had all the police reports, it had hospital stays, it had interviews between both my biological parents and some  people in their family on why they were not choosing to adopt me why they wouldn’t choose to be placements for me.

And when he gave it to me, he said, “Jill, I just think it’s time for you to know what really happened to you. I know a lot of this happened to you before you could remember.” And in that conversation, he also expressed regret for adopting me. And not in a way that was helpful but rather in a way that was breaking parts that already felt very broken. And it took me it took me two months to really be able to sit in front of someone and tell someone that that had even happened. All these years later where I know so much more truth, but because of just how heartbreaking that was, to have things affirmed that I had already either assumed to be true or had been told to be true. But knowing and feeling that in that moment, in the place that I was at in my own story, and having to hear those things from him, “No, we shouldn’t have done this. I regret doing it, and it didn’t really work out well for anyone.” I think my dad said that from a place of like wanting relief from his conscience, not understanding that even as a 30-plus-year-old woman then, I still just wanted a dad. Like I was still just having to come to terms with “Okay, like, I don’t have a dad.”

And so one of the things I often tell people that I work with is “We don’t outlive our story.” My story from when I was young to now, I’m still living that and will live that until the Lord takes me home and helps me know it from his perspective. Clearly, I get to know pieces of that now, but I don’t get to know it fully. I’ve had counseling, I’ve had dear friends, I’ve had good churches, I’ve had the supports that the Lord has brought into my life to help me be able to sift through my story. But even in that, to hear that from him that day, it was shaping and it kind of brought me back, in some ways, to Ground Zero in places that I had to trust the Lord to be faithful again to me in how I think about that. So, yeah, that’s a bit about what’s going on and where I am and how he’s provided.

Ann Maree

Wow. Even having heard it before, hearing it again, it still impacts me. My inner being cries out for that little girl. Sorry.

Jill

Yeah, me too, I think it’s one of those things when I have to remind myself of, “You know, Jill, it’s okay for that to still be tender to the touch. And there’s times where thinking about that, the pain of it will take my breath away. And then there’s times where thinking about it, I just look at it and go like, “Lord, I can’t believe all that you’ve done.” That experience is a bit of a seesaw. One isn’t steady because both of those things happen at the same time.

Darby

I think that’s just such important precious truths, right? To have the grief and the hope simultaneously going back and forth. And just explaining that journey for so many people who are experiencing that similar pull that two things have to be true.

Jill

And the percentages of the emotion of them can shift, but the reality of both of them are always consistent to me and what I see other people have to live out of too in heartbreaking situations.

Darby

It’s sweet to see too, even how you can see, at this vantage point, the Lord’s hand. Right? I think that’s one thing Ann Maree’s always drawing out is that redemptive thread. And she talks about story as story-work, right? It’s so clear that you’ve done the work to be able to see the thread, and that has been costly.

Jill

Yeah, I, sometimes will joke, “I’ve paid a lot of money to be able to say these things.” So I need to actually be able to say them. Because it is it is work to be able to sit here and be able to speak those things, and feel the heartbreak of them. Even in my own internal world right now, the wrestle is going, because there are times even now I have to say, “Jill, that wasn’t your fault.” Because I can logically know that. Right?

I actually was a child welfare social worker for a few years. I, you know, sit with other people, and I get paid to tell people things are not their fault. And yet, when I’m having to listen to my own narration of my own story, I can quickly go into the dit, “But if I would have…” “If only I had done this.” You just have to trust in the Lord’s sovereignty and be and then being able to look back on it now and be able to see God’s providential hand.

Oftentimes, public schools get a lot of flack. There’s a lot of struggle about them right now. But I don’t know if I would physically be alive if it wasn’t for the public school system, like the reality of their care and their protection and their provision for me.  My need was met there. And the Lord, in His abundance and grace, put me there. I know, my first through fourth grade teachers knew the Lord. I didn’t know the Lord then. But I remember Bible verses. I remember them talking about him. And going back to that time and even in a very non-church setting, he was planting seeds for his redemption in my story.

Darby

I think what’s standing out to me as an outsider listening is how different people in the church body and then the church as a whole really rescued you in key ways even though the system was failing you. Right? But individuals were not because they understood what it was to care for a vulnerable person.

Jill

And they could see true things about me that I couldn’t see. As a little kid, you don’t see what’s really happening to you, and especially when that’s all you’ve ever known, right? I remember when I first started really telling my story to one of my very best friends. I lived with her family for actually five years and it was just so redemptive and helpful to me. But I remember the first time I started telling her my story, and she broke down crying in places that felt weird to me. And it was that realization that she knew my loss in ways I didn’t. I’ve never had I had a mother or a father who has known me and loved me. She has never known a day without it. So she knows the level of my loss that I actually, by God’s protection, don’t even know. Now, do I wish I knew? Or do I have the loss of even that loss? Absolutely. But she knows the level of my loss, and because of that can speak to me in ways that says “No Jill, this is how you’re supposed to be cared for.” “This is what you missed out on.” “This is who God says He is.” “This is who God says parents are supposed to be.” “This is how I experienced it.” That was just a real pivotal moment for me of realizing the mercy in some ways of not knowing what I was losing at that age, and the heartbreak of now knowing what I what I don’t have, and even how the Lord has met some of those needs now.

Ann Maree

Wow, I have so many questions I really want to ask, but I need to focus in. I appreciate so much just having this other perspective. Our storyteller is one in a loving family with the foster children in their home, but that’s not always the case, obviously. And you’re describing the inside perspective from the child very, very well, for us.

Darby

I think one thing I’m appreciating about listening to Caroline’s story is her willingness to step into the unknown. We’re hearing from Jill, where there weren’t Christians and people who had a mission on their heart at that time to come around her. And Caroline’s children have a different outcome because there are people that are seeking to love her foster children and adoptive children well for Jesus. And I think it just highlights the need, that the church can meet in many beautiful ways that we’ve seen in her story.

Ann Maree

Right. Darby, I’m going to ask you a question. In your little booklet on trauma, you say that you realized at a certain point that you were called by God as an under-shepherd for your children. And I think that’s a really great term. And one that’s going to apply really well here with talking about foster and adoptive families. So as adults in our children’s lives biological or by way of welcoming foster or adoptive children into our homes, we are privileged to shepherd them toward handling life’s problems and joys, as Jill is talking about there, too, and growing into maturity and Christ’s-likeness. And that calling is the same for both biological parents and the adoptive parents.

But one thing we know for sure, and what we’re hearing from Jill, is that they also suffer great loss. And I’ll circle back to you on this one, Jill, because I want to hear your thoughts on the brokenness. But Darby, what are some of the ways as a parent that you’ve learned as an under-shepherd that you’ve learned to steward a child’s heart in healing?

Darby

I think the first little bit is just remembering that I am an under-shepherd. We hear Jill’s story and our heart is immediately overwhelmed. And we hear Caroline’s story and our hearts are overwhelmed for the responsibility that showed up at her doorstep. And I think as we encounter people who want to care for the vulnerable and the very broken, we have to remind them, that they’re not doing that alone, that they have help, that they have not just help through the Lord, through prayer, but also help through his community of believers that he provides in all sorts of ways. So I think it’s important to remember that it’s not all up to us.

A lot of these problems we cannot solve, right? I think we’ve even heard that in Caroline story. And in Jill’s, there’s just outcomes and things that are unpredictable, and courts and rulings that don’t make sense to us. But the Lord is always over everyone’s story. And I think that just gives us the courage to walk through hard things with our children, knowing that it’s not all up to us that we have a Helper, and we have someone who actually loves our children more than we ever can imagine. I just feel like that’s a very comforting, orienting truth.

The other thing is just to remember that what we’re doing is very purposeful. We’re doing so much more than sheltering and feeding and educating a child. We actually are helping shape their interpretations of the world and the Lord’s care for them and what love should look like. And so shepherding is just a helpful word because it talks about our shaping influences. Our job is to walk with our children through the valleys and bring them out and keep them safe and to guard them and provide them good teaching and places of rest.

So I think it just creates a metaphor, a beautiful picture of all that’s involved in parenting. And it helps us to slow down and really think about “How is my child’s heart?” “What does their heart need for me?” “What is our heart wrestling with?” “What are they not understanding about their world?” And again, “How can I gently come alongside them and bring them out of those really hard places?” And I’m not dragging them, right? A shepherd walks alongside, walks with, often carries. I think that speaks to the amount of nurturing we have to do.

Ann Maree

That’s really good. And so, Jill, you talked about the losses that you didn’t even know you had. Can you speak to how the church should probably think more or differently about adoptees about adoption?

Jill

Yeah. Even last week, I was in a counseling session with a couple who’ve been struggling with infertility. And the husband sheepishly says, “You know, we don’t know what we think about adoption.” He doesn’t know a significant part of my story. I mean, we think they know that I’m adopted. And I just remember looking at him going, “Adoption is not the answer to infertility.” And the wife gets immediately emotional and says, But that’s what the Church tells us. Like, that’s actually what people tell us. If we are struggling with infertility, this needs to be one of the very first things that we pursue.” And I think that that became an answer to infertility in a way. As we’ve seen more people in the church struggle with infertility.

And I just watch that instant assumption of adoption as solution compound the struggle making hard things harder. When we take brokenness and add brokenness on top of brokenness, when the brokenness isn’t Christ, right? There is real brokenness in stories. I think we see that in Caroline. They’re inviting broken mess into their home. They’re inviting hardship into their home, and hurt in that. I would just be very cautious in what we think about adoption and what we think about where we would say, “Yes. The Lord absolutely gives the biblical mandate that we must care for widows and orphans. But there are so many ways to do that. Like it doesn’t have to be adoption. Just like Caroline talked about, I’ve experienced having people willing to walk alongside families who are adopting. Or how do you help? Maybe kids stay in homes where there aren’t the resources, whether that’s emotional or physical. There’s plenty of other ways to look after the orphan, than adoption. Adoption isn’t the only answer for kids who are in broken situations.

I think the other thing that I would say, and I think this fits for anyone who had severe childhood trauma, it doesn’t just fit for adoption. But one of the things that I’ll say is, “I feel like I’ve had to live my life backwards.” At five years old, I knew how to feed myself and my biological, younger siblings. I knew how to pull the chair over to the microwave. I knew how to make the mac and cheese. I knew how to use a can opener and put the food in there and just make sure that we were able to survive. I knew how to lock the doors. I knew.

Yeah, in many ways, when I was in my biological setting, I was the child-headed households. Like we hear about that in other countries, but the reality of it is that we have child-headed households here, as well. And so I learned how to be responsible to a place of being that adult. I learned how, in some ways, to manipulate what information people knew, and all of that.

And now, as an adult, I have to learn what it means to be cared for. I have to learn what it means that, you know what, just because I can doesn’t mean I should. I have to learn what it means to be able to speak from a heart that is full of all kinds of complicated emotions, and not have to have those things figured out before they come out of my mouth because, otherwise, they’ll never actually come out of my mouth. And so I think when you have that level of brokenness in a child, when they are a child, I think like what Darby is basically saying is know them. Know them and trust that there’s more to know about them than what you see.

Because that’s what the Lord tells us is true of us, no matter our age. And I think oftentimes we can be more dismissive of that in a child, because they’re smaller. Or what I find parents is that they look at their four-year-old, and they see a 20-year-old, and they don’t want their 20-year-old to talk like that or do that or hit that or bite that, right? But do you look at them and see them as the four-year-old? Because that’s how the Lord looks at me. The Lord looks at me and sees what parts of my heart are still very much a four-year-old, and what parts of my heart are now a 40-year-old. So have that vantage point or know that that vantage point exists for the child.

And I would say for the church that you probably have a lot of people in your life living life backwards, right? There are people who are required to be adults at very young ages or at least have to bear the weight of adult responsibility. So now, the Lord’s trying to teach them, “What does it mean to be His child?” “What does it mean to be weak and limited and just human?

Ann Maree

I think, Caroline said it often that adoption is not the answer, as you’re saying. And she talks a lot about the brokenness. I’m just going to play this one part that she talked about with the trauma. And then I have a question for both of you, if you will.

Caroline

I think when you are living with someone who has experienced trauma, especially a child who developmentally does not have the capacity to think through some of the things that they’ve experienced, and honestly, just things they never should have experienced. It can really look like and feel like that trauma wins. There are many nights and days and phone calls that I’ve left or just gone to bed feeling like trauma has won. And asking Lord, “Why does it feel like it’s always winning?” And even though I know the end of the story doesn’t always feel like I do.

Ann Maree

Yeah, kind of repeating what you’re saying, but from the mom perspective of the family. But what I’d like to know from both of you is, from the perspective of the child, Jill, and also from this perspective of a counselor, if you want to, and Darby from the perspective of the counselor, how do we use the stories of Scripture, connect them to our stories of trauma, and then how does that impact the feeling she’s talking about? Like, it doesn’t look like anything’s gonna, end up well, even though I know the end of the story. Does that make sense?

Darby

Yeah, I think we see that in Jesus, as he’s heading to the cross. He knows the end of the story. He’s actually been there. He’s been with God. He knows where he’s going. He knows the purpose of His death is to save all the people who are on his heart, and he still sweats blood. He’s still in agony. He’s hanging on the cross and questioning his father’s care for him. So if Jesus facing great suffering, knowing the purpose is still in anguish, it’s okay to be in anguish, We need to articulate the anguish, we need to share the anguish. And yet the same Jesus enters in and meets us exactly where we are.

So we know the end of the story. But we don’t ever have to rush to the end of the story. We have to help people live in the moment. So when you have a four-year-old, who you’re taking to church and is refusing to go into the nursery, because they don’t know who they can trust, because life has taught them that people are not worthy of their trust. We don’t rush them through, “You need to trust people.” We say, “No, we understand that you have been harmed by people. So how can I help you in this very moment?” And that’s often by offering comfort and reassurance and not requiring things that cause them anxiety initially.

Jill

I think that’s really good. I think we have to be more patient with ourselves. No matter what role you are in the story of any brokenness, but in this especially. There’s that reality that Darby was just talking about that you’re not going to not have the emotion. Faith doesn’t anesthetize that, David would say. As I’ve thought about it too of, you know, “Where does Scripture actually makes sense to me?” One of the verses that’s been so helpful to me, and it’s a little surprising, probably. It’s Isaiah 49:15. And it says, “Can a mother forget her child?” And then he goes on to say, “Even then I will not forget you.”

And the reality of it is, is we have a lot of people who have the story, their story is in the “even then,” right? That everyone’s story gets to be known in that because there are some people who go, “A mother could never forget her child!” As a mother’s heart, you go, “I would never forget my child.” But the Lord knows that there are some that don’t have a mother, that because of the wickedness of this world, that has been withheld from them. And so he gives them the words “even then.” And then he gives him himself, “I will not forget you.”

One of the things we’ve been talking about recently, because Darby has been bringing it to our attention, it’s just our union with Christ. It is in that “even then,” that I actually have my union with Christ, that He has come, he has sought, he has captured me. Christ Himself, spent time with the Father in true abandonment so I would never know a day without a Father. And if I can take that back, if I can go back to the road of Calvary, and go, “Okay, he actually knows the fullness of abandonment. And I just have a taste.” So that way, I will actually never know it completely, and there will be a day where it will never touch me again. Then that’s, that’s the direction I need to go. And I may go that way with tears. I may go that way with fury. I may go that way in isolation. But that’s the direction that I am promised. And in some ways, it’s not even up to me anymore. He’s going to take me there. And that is what I have to trust in.

But also, be very patient with myself or with others, and go, “And you get to have the fury, you get to have the devastation, you get in Christ who was so anxious that He sweat blood. I’ve never known a day that full of anxiety, if I’m honest. But I’ve known heartache that caused actually that.

Ann Maree

I hear the title of your book, “Even Then.”

So bouncing off what we’re talking about here. Let’s say in the home that this is not addressed. The four-year-olds are made to go to nursery and she or he is living in the “even then.” What are the long term impacts of ignoring this kind of trauma in their lives or dismissing it or just not addressing it?

Darby

Just speaking practically. And having been a mother of young children, we like order. We don’t like chaos. And children’s behavior often stands in the way it disrupts, right? It, it makes us look bad. It’s uncomfortable. And so we can be tempted when we’re taking traumatized children in our home, just to create the order and require behavior and performance and not address the heart. I think that’s what you’re asking about.

We would hope that, by and large, all of us would slow down and address the heart. And none of us are going to do that perfectly. We’re hoping that’s at least on our map with parenting. But for the children whose childhood trauma is not addressed, it’s not on the parental map, they are missing tending to the child’s cues.

A lot of long-term effects can happen when a child’s heart isn’t cared for. There can be health concerns that can really affect them as adults. It can really affects their health, their ability to trust other people, their ability to concentrate in school. There’s a plethora. It affects their whole person, body and soul. And so that highlights that we slow down and attend to it because the impacts will actually get worse for them over time if they aren’t given a place to heal.

Jill

Like Darby is saying, every parent struggles with that. One of the sweetest gifts you can give your kids as a parent is an apology. Even now, if you hear this and feel convicted of like, oh shoot, I actually did that. Just go to them and say, “Do you remember when Mama did that? I’m sorry. I didn’t I didn’t see you, and I want to I want to be able to see you. I want to know you. I want to care well for you, even at the cost of my reputation, even at the cost of my comfort, even at the cost of my convenience. And I didn’t do that so I’m sorry.” I think being able to go back and acknowledge that you missed an opportunity to get to know them will be a blessing to them. Because every parent has to do that whether you have an adopted kid in your house or not. Let me give you a spoiler. You have to be willing to say, I didn’t see you, as I wanted to and as I as I could have.

Darby

I think a relatable point for that, for all caregivers is trying to put a child to bed, who’s anxious and who’s having bad dreams. You’re not going to be able to discipline fear out of a child. It’s like you have to attend to their fears, and that’s just something common to all of us. There might be a point that becomes defiance or manipulation, but if it’s truly a child is fearful, discipline is not going to help the child go to sleep. And so we all experienced those moments as parents, it’s common to us all, but I think that’s transferable onto situations where now a child is coming out of something, a history that’s very difficult, something very disruptive, maybe distressing and harmful in their lives and being put in a new family. That type of situation is going to create all sorts of fear and anxiety.

And so it requires that we look at lots of moments with a broader lens. I think that’s where it’s helpful to have other people in the church come alongside because that’s exhausting as a parent. You need a break from that. You need people to encourage you. You need people to brainstorm with you in creative ways to carry the load with you, to show up with a coffee, to be praying for you to be able to sustain what you are doing. Because you cannot do that, and you cannot parent that way in your own strength.

Ann Maree

Yeah, very much so. We’re touching on it. But just to be more directed in a question, how is this kind of care an opportunity?

Jill

Well, I think it’s an opportunity for you to know the Lord, and for the parent to know the Lord as much and be able to genuinely go, “Oh, this is the grace and mercy I receive.” The Lord doesn’t wake me up every day and let me know all the ways I’ve disappointed his statutes or letting me know how I’m not doing well by recounting all of my sins against me, right? The mercy of Christ, that meets me every morning is the fact that I don’t I don’t have to pay the consequence for every single wrong thing that I’m going to do that day. Right? Because he’s going to know me and he’s going to know where I am in the process of my story. And the opportunity is for you to then embody that for the person in front of you, that you’re literally laying down your life for.

Darby

And also, we heard about a body of believers in Caroline story. The church ministry director, she saw a need and she got educated. In Jill’s story, her pastor saw something, that something wasn’t right. And he got creative, and enlisted an army of caregivers. And so I think if we can slow down in all our relationships and realize if the Lord has put somebody in my path, is he asking me to take part in their story? How is he asking me to serve? What do I need to learn and understand? I’m curious. I’m moving in. And I’m choosing to love in ways that I initially probably don’t know how to do, but I’m going to learn how to do.

Jill

I think the other thing that I would I would say in that too, is if you know one story, you know, one story. I think Caroline did a phenomenal job of speaking to what I hear be consistent themes through stories. My story that I shared today has some themes that are consistent in adoptee stories, but it’s still just one story. And so part of being educated I think is knowing themes, and then knowing intimately the truth of that person’s story.

Because I have dear friends who have a beautiful adoption story, you know, and it looks very different for them. They don’t have some of the complex things that are in mine or they don’t have a desire to know more about their biological families. That’s just not what the Lord has stirred in their hearts. And so to be able to give permission for every story to be different, even within an adoptee or an adoptive family’s story is going to look very different based on each family. And so I think giving people permission for their story could be unique is helpful.

Ann Maree

And I asked Caroline that question about her storytelling. I want to play what she said, and then I have a question for you.

Caroline

I think there’s definitely caution in sharing our stories. First, because you just never know what someone else is going through. And so, I think just having discernment on when to share your story and who to share your story with is something to think through. And then knowing that the point in storytelling is not to make people feel bad for you, or even for others to feel what you’re feeling. But it’s a way to be more understood. And as a believer, it really is to bring Christ glory.

Ann Maree

So you were just talking about it, Jill. But when you were telling your story, talking about how you couldn’t tell your story to your church leaders. So both of you please help our audience understand what kinds of things would be helpful as leaders, counselors, whoever, to help somebody prepare to be able to tell that story? I mean, you sat there in silence when you were directly asked, is there anything that you can help us understand that would have been helpful?

Jill

I think it spoke to where I was at. And to be honest, it spoke to my lack of safety of where I was at. It would not have been safe for me, in some ways to speak at that time. And so I would say it’s that part where you get to embody the longsuffering of that.

I think, also there is a place of going, “Is there a way to get the story out?” “Could you put it even in a paragraph?” “Could you journal?” “Are there places where you can get the internal, external?” Because that’s really helpful when the Lord asks us to do that. And so I would say be careful.

I would also say, if you’re the helper in that situation. If you’re starting to feel exasperated or frustrated, I would just ask you to say “Where’s that coming about coming from? And who is that really about?” Is it about you feeling as the helper like “I’m not doing a good job”? or “I’m inefficient”? or “If I was better at this, I would be able to draw the person out more quickly”? It could just be the reality of where that person is with their story. I say all that to be patient with them.

I think the thing that I do want to speak to as well is to the person who is needing to tell their story. I would say, I think we need to be careful to not idolize our story. And I watch one of the ways that we do this is by thinking that somebody has to know what I’ve been through, they’ve had to have experienced it, in order to know me or to be a help to me. And if I’m honest, I don’t want anyone to have experienced some of the things I’ve experienced in my life. I don’t want that to be true for anyone.

And yet I still do really want to be known. So when I look at my story, and I look at the suffering and the brokenness that has happened, I want that to produce a generosity of spirit in me and an understanding of me and suffering, that can work with someone else that doesn’t necessarily have to have my same specifics. But they know what it’s like to go “Lord, where are you?” or “Lord why did this have to happen this way?” or “Why are you withholding?”

I have a dear friend who lost a child when she was three months old, and the way that we’ve been able to just sit with each other and with the Lord and say,” This doesn’t make sense, and it’s not fair, and it’s not right.” And we have those places of just heartache together. I would have lost if I would have said, “You know what? She can’t know what pain looks like because she didn’t have abandonment at this age or she didn’t have parents who did this to her.” And so I would say, for the for the person who is in the place of grief, I would encourage you to go, “Is my suffering, giving me a generosity of spirit to other people suffering?”

I know you’ve had Jonathan on here before. He is a dear friend of mine. There are times where we can send each other a text with like five words that help us know, “No, you get it.” So I don’t want to undersell what that means to feel like someone has an idea or a similar experience. But I’ve watched that often times their going, “Well, you know, this was helpful because this person…” or “You can’t help because you don’t know…” Or adaptive kids will say to me, “Oh, well, you can help me because, you know.” There’s some truth to that, but that’s not the whole truth. And that’s not what suffering should be producing in us, if that makes sense.

Ann Maree

Very much. And I think “idolizes” is the right word. Yeah, I don’t have the trauma you have. Darby doesn’t have that. But I think empathy is what helps me listen to you, and listen with ears to hear what you’re not saying, even. And I think that was something that you said at the beginning of that section was “What wasn’t said was that you were not in a safe place.” And yet, your pastor heard that in what wasn’t said, and that’s a real skill in listening. And a practiced skill, I think. But Darby, were you gonna say anything?

Darby

No, I think that’s really important. Stories can’t be told until there’s safety and stability. So, taking this back in two directions is recognizing that children moving into foster care, their world isn’t stable for a while. So it’s just recognizing the amount of patience for that. And thinking about the parental responsibility, as I’ll answer in the other direction. But what I think Caroline did a good job with is, it’s not her story. Her story is in the caretaking of them, but she’s not sharing the details of their hurts and wounds and abandonment because that shouldn’t be public. It’s already enough that it’s in a child’s file, but it shouldn’t be fodder for the community, what a child has endured.

And I think of Jesus going to heal Jarius’s daughter. She’s dead, and there’s a sweet moment where there’s all these people, and he takes only his closest disciples in with him and the parents. And he brings her back to life. He holds her hand, and it’s so tender and gentle, and his concern is so clearly for the child. This isn’t a miracle for the public consumption. This is for her. And so there aren’t people there watching as in the case of his other miracles, right? She was a young person. And he even says as he leaves, I strictly forbid you to speak about this. Because it was about caring for her, as a child, and her capacity. I mean, imagine being raised to life with an audience. It would be so different.

I think we can just transfer that on to these children. Their stories should not be public that way. “Yes, please support my child. They’re struggling with fear of rejection.” Sure, talk about themes, but with details, I think we have to be careful. And I’m not saying you don’t have a good friend that you’re confiding those things in. But there is that discernment of who. Whether I’m adult or I’m a parent of a child or that child growing up, who can be really trusted with these things, because they’re precious, And they need wise care of someone who’s going to treasure and protect my story.

And I think in this area, we need to recognize the importance of protecting a child’s privacy especially in our social media world. I see it all the time, the picture of a mom posting a child in the ER crying and completely distraught, you know, “This is my night.” And I’m thinking, “No, this is your child’s night.” We’re not geared to think as parents about protecting our child in that way.

I could hear that really well in Caroline. But what does that mean? That costs her something greatly because when she’s in Bible study, people don’t really know her in the way that she wants to be known. And so there’s that tension that she needs to be known, but she has to really curate where she’s fully known.

So I’m just trying to point out some of those tension points as people who walk alongside and be willing to love knowing less. Be willing to say there’s something else here. I don’t understand. So I’m going to bend down to serve ,and not explain away what I don’t understand. I think the conversation today has really highlighted for me all the complexities and the layers of wisdom and the tenderness involved. There’s so many different people in the story. And reflecting even on Jill’s story, like I’m sure that pastor’s families that came around side her were wise. She felt loved by them, not talked about by them.

Jill

Right, it doesn’t turn into the gossip. We would never call it that, but they’re like, “What do you know?” or “How close are you?” You know, when the competitiveness of relationship in church communities of, you know, everyone wants to be the helper? And to what Darby is talking about, I think this is a constant theme of this podcast is just the dignity aspect. We allow people to have, even in places of great shame and despair, that there’s still a dignity that we want to allow and foster and give. And even in how I talk about my story today, like my adoptive dad is still living, both my biological parents are still living, like I need to be careful because even though, it’s my story, I’m not the only person in my story. And so wanting to even talk about those things in a way that is charitable to them, knowing that there’s hardships in their stories that have created the hardships in mine.

There’s two other things that I think I would say quickly. One thing I can remember doing and still do at times. I will piecemeal my story, because it feels like such a burden. I know it’s a burden to me. And I know if I were to go through all of the things that had happened, that is a heavy weight. And so I don’t just have to carry that weight, I now have to carry the response of that weight to another person. And that can feel overwhelming. I love my people. I don’t want them to hurt and I don’t want them to have to hurt for me. But I need them to hurt for me.

I think the other thing is be careful with the fact that the story is going to come out in pieces. And don’t feel like that that speaks to trust and to growth and longsuffering. Don’t expect the story to all come out at one time.

Another thing that I would really love the church to know is that I feel like there are times where well-meaning people will say or will do things that will try to compensate for the Lord saying “No.” To this day, the Lord has said, “No.” I don’t get a mom and a dad. Do I get a church family that loves me and cares about me? Absolutely. Do I have one place that I know I should go to on Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving? No, the Lord has said “No.” Do I have 22 places I could go to on Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving? Yeah. And you know what? That is a heartache. It’s a heartache to not have A Place. It’s a discernment issue to sometimes figure out how to pick that.

But I think sometimes that well-meaning people in the church will be so uncomfortable with the fact that the Lord is saying, “No,” that they’ll say, “Oh no, now this is your place. We are your place.” They’ll try to compensate for places where the Lord has said, “No.” And we just have to be okay with that fact that sometimes we have a God who is a Father who tells us, “No,” and if we try to compensate for that…

Darby

Or bypass their suffering, I think you are saying there.

Jill

And it can create unhealthy codependent relationships. It can create places where it makes healing go stagnant.

So I think that’s the other thing that I would say to a church leader is, “Are you trying to say “Yes,” in some place the Lord is saying, “No”? That doesn’t mean you don’t care. It doesn’t mean you don’t move towards. It doesn’t mean that you don’t make sure adoptive families have people that are gonna walk alongside them, that adopted kids are gonna have people that know them. Absolutely, that’s the call of the church. But not to compensate or to make up for something that the Lord has said “No” to.

Ann Maree

That is an excellent word to hear.

Is there any other question or something burning on your heart that you think should be said that hasn’t been said yet?

Jill

The other thing I would say is, whenever I meet an adopted family or a foster family, I just want to say, “Thank you.” I have no idea how well they’re doing or what that is, but I’m so grateful that people are willing to listen to the Lord say, “An orphan really needs you.” And I’m so thankful whether it’s the actual family who’s providing that immediate need or the families that are walking next to them, that there are stories where the Lord provides that, because he is a good provider of that. And I can look at it now and it helps me understand the places where I have to deal with loss, that it was not designed to be that way, that the loss actually goes against the way that the Lord designed it to be.

And to be able to look at foster families and adoptive parent families, and say, “Thank you for caring for people.” “Thank you for being willing to hold more than one story in your home.” Because really, in that level of brokenness, both the family and the children have to hold two storylines in one heart often when it when it comes to adoption and foster care. And that’s a weighty thing that produces much joy and suffering.

Ann Maree

And both those things can be true at the same time.

Well, thank you both, for giving in a way that I think is rich and beneficial for the audience and the church leaders that listen and counselors who may be listening, even kids and parents in foster and adoptive families that are listening.

So thank you for taking the time with us today. As mentioned, Darby has recently released multiple publications, small and large. One particular is Something Scary Happened. And yeah, I will hold up my little sheep plushie. The audience doesn’t get to see that, but I have Miles, the lamb, on my desk. Anyway. And you have two mini books on trauma, one for children, one for adults. What are the titles again?

Darby

Yeah, When Children Experience Trauma, and it’s help for caregivers by giving them some of those basics in those parenting struggles to help orient them to what’s going on in their child, and to give them some strategies but also some anchoring footholds for their journey. And the other one is Trauma Care. And that’s before we do the deep trauma work, we can just think first about safety and stability and trust and know that relationships have to be in place. We want to be careful before we dive into the tenderness of people’s story so that mini book talks about that aspect.

Ann Maree

And I just have to say to you again, Darby. I can’t say it enough. I love how you read Scripture and then share it because it brings it to life in a very soft and ministering way. You’re a good shepherd. So thank you for that.

Darby

Thank you. And I love that, like the children’s book is Psalm 23. And I just think that’s what we as parents, and caregivers, and counselors know that we all need that Great Shepherd.

Jill

And I would say the children’s book works for adults too. I’ve read it.

Ann Maree

Yes, it does. Me too.

Jill

Get children’s books. They can be helpful. Yeah, I’ve used them in counseling settings with adults who I’ve said like, “This is what you should have known.” “This is what should have been read to you from this place of tenderness. Can you hear it now?” And I think, I think especially Mile’s story has been really helpful for that.

Ann Maree

Thank you. Yeah. Thank you for writing it, Darby.

Darby

My pleasure.

And Jill, putting yourself out there live on a podcast. Thank you, I look forward to your book that you don’t know your writing called, “Even Then.” Watch for it. Hello P&R, New Growth, we’ve got a book here. Diane Langberg says this, I use it all the time about “hearing a person’s story and sitting in a sacred place.” And that’s what I’ve felt in just hearing you today and hearing it before but especially hearing you say it live. I pray that God multiplies the impact of your story to the people who needed the most, so thank you.

Jill

I’m thankful for the place that he has brought me.

Ann Maree

I am too. Yep.

So that’s all for today. If you want to learn more about becoming a licensed foster parent, please visit your local county’s department of social services website. If you want to know more about foster care, we suggest you start with some of the following resources, Foster the Family by Jamie Finn or Reframing Foster Care by Jason Johnson. If you’re interested in learning more about trauma and building connection as a caretaker with a vulnerable child, we will include several resources in our show notes and also we will include links for Darby’s books as well. And if you’re a foster parents looking for a support group in your area, we’ll include a link for that as well.

Safe to Hope is a production of Help[H]er. Our Executive Producer is Ann Maree Goudzwaard. Safe to Hope is written and mixed by Ann Maree and edited by Ann Maree and Helen Weigt. Music is Waterfall and is licensed by Pixabay. We hope you enjoyed this episode in the Safe To Hope podcast series.

Safe To Hope is one of the resources offered through the ministry of Help[H]er, a 501C3 that provides training, resources, and the people necessary in order for the church to shepherd women well. Your donations make it possible for Help[H]er to serve women and churches as they navigate crises. All donations are tax-deductible. If you’d be interested in partnering with this ministry, go to help her resources.com and click the donate link in the menu. If you’d like more information or would like to speak to someone about ministry goals, or advocacy needs, go to help her resources.com That’s help her resources.com

[disclaimer]

We value and respect conversations with all our guests. Opinions, viewpoints, and convictions may differ so we encourage our listeners to practice discernment. As well. guests do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of HelpHer. It is our hope that this podcast is a platform for hearing and learning rather than causing division or strife.

Please note, abuse situations have common patterns of behavior, responses, and environments. Any familiarity construed by the listener is of their own opinion and interpretation. Our podcast does not accuse individuals or organizations.

The podcast is for informational purposes and is not a substitute for professional care, diagnosis, or treatment.

Visit your county’s dept. of social services website for foster parent info.

Click here for H Institute’s Theology of Story

Here’s info about Darby Strickland

Here’s info about Jill Butler

Books about fostering: Foster the Family and Reframing Foster Care

Alongside Families alongsidefamilies.org. If you don’t live in NC upstreamcollab.org

If you are a foster parent looking for a support group in your area please visit Foster the Family support groups.

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