“Do not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” Exodus 34:14
When I met my oldest daughter, I thought we had an instant connection. She was quick to come to me, quick to say goodbye to her foster mother, quick to offer affection. I thought it was a sign, that it was God opening the door to her heart, so that we could bond quickly. I had no idea that it was actually a sign that her heart was broken or a hint at the months or years of hard work we had ahead of us. You see, my baby girl had spent 9 months in foster care and, including her birth parents, we were her 5th parents. I was the 5th woman she called mom, and, because of that, she did not know the meaning of the word “mom”.
One day in those early weeks, she and I were looking through a bag of her belongings, and I was asking her where she got each item. I wanted to know what things were important, what was a dollar store toy and what was something given by a beloved parent. I remember holding up one item and saying, “Where did you get this?” She looked at her hand and started counting on her fingers and then, pointing at her middle finger, she said, “It was this mommy.”My heart literally fell with that phrase. No three year old should ever be able to say those words.
Within the first couple of weeks after the girls moved in, my sister-in-law came for a visit. I was used to foster care, and, in the foster care world, you don’t stop when you get a new placement. You can’t. You learn to learn mid-stride with a child, because they usually came and went without notice. I did lock-ins during the bleary sleepless days with a newborn. I brought new moms meals while my world spun because of adding a new kid to my own house. I continued every scheduled event without missing a beat. I was good at it, and I didn’t know that this time (with my forever daughters) I should do things differently. So, when Aunt Bear came from Memphis to spend a weekend with us, I thought nothing of it. And, when N instantaneously fell in love with her, I thought she was just falling in step with the family. We all adore Bear.
I found out quickly, though, that this wasn’t a “normal” love. N’s love was obsessive. We jokingly called it an addiction, but I didn’t think it was all that funny as I watched my new daughter actively reject my affections for Bear’s. She would stand outside of the bathroom waiting anxiously anytime B went inside. She would cling to her with smothery arms. She would cry if I insisted on doing something for her when Bear was near. I remember thinking “She’s looking for her next Mom”.
She didn’t just have an obsession with B, though. I began to notice that in every social setting that we entered, N would find my replacement. She had her favorites at church and in our neighborhood, but she, also, searched for love from strangers. I remember watching her walk up to a mother who was dropping off her son at one of my boys’ birthday parties with her arms raised to be held. Neither of us had ever laid eyes on her before, but N was instantly ready to snuggle up. I am very certain that she would have happily left with her. Most people saw this behavior and just thought she was friendly and sweet. They enjoyed her affections. Her tiny, adoring eyes could make you think you were the most special person in the whole world, but it broke MY heart every time she rejected me for someone else.
I didn’t know much back then about attachment issues. I had heard of RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder), but those words made me think of future serial killers. Those kids were violent and angry. N never struggled with anything that extreme, so it made it difficult to figure out what was going on. I knew she wanted attachment, but that attaching too deeply was scary. So, instead of bonding deeply with me, she filled her void by bonding quickly and shallowly with lots of people.
I learned from friends in the adoptive world, that my daughter was struggling with attachment. In fact, all adopted children have attachment issues. You cannot be removed from what should have been the most safe, most loving, and most nurturing relationship of your life without deep and heartbreaking wounds. I learned, too, that since she was wounded through relationship, the only healing she could receive would come through relationship-a deep, nurturing, safe, uncompromising relationship.
I was jealous for her love. As her mother, I wanted to hold her and love her and let her know she was safe. I knew that, in that love, she would find healing. I knew that with her daddy and I, she would be safe, but if I allowed her to continue seeking affection from all around her she faced the greatest threat of being truly destroyed. My jealousy, though it started as my own selfish longing for my girl, became holy as I learned to see her need to be loved as daughter, as I saw the importance of us putting our relationship above every other.
So, we made some big changes, hard changes. We made it a rule that the only people that could hold N was Mommy and Daddy. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, Sunday School teachers, family friends were all told that they were not to pick her up or hold her in their lap. N was taught to ask Josh and my permission before she asked someone for a hug. Mommy and Daddy were the only people allowed to meet her needs. Mommy will get you some water. Daddy will bring you your food. We asked Bear, who was N’s favorite obsession, to redirect her back to us, to not sit by her or let her hover. We began the process of teaching our then 4 year old what most parents get to teach their newborns. We taught her that we would love her with a never ending, always and forever love. We made games of rocking her and gazing into her eyes. We stopped our world for months on end to show her that SHE was ours and that WE were hers. It was hard. I had a lot of days when I thought it would never work. It was exhausting, but so rewarding when little bits of her trust began to show up. I remember vividly the first time she came to wake me in the middle of the night, because she was afraid. Oh, we celebrated that night big time! We taught all the things that we had assumed she would just know: that she could ask us for help, that we were her biggest fans, that we were her safe place.
And, while we taught her, God taught me. I had never understood His jealousy for me. It had seemed like a selfish attribute, and I could not rationalize that thought with a good God. But, as an adoptive mom, I got a front line view of a different aspect of His goodness. You see, so often we run with arms raised towards the very things that will destroy us. We have a gaping hole in our hearts that we try to fill with relationships, with jobs, with fun, when the only thing that can truly fill that hole is God, Himself. He jealously longs for us to understand how deeply we need Him, how unconditionally He loves us, and, yet we run from Him. As a child looking for a new Mommy among strangers while her own Momma calls her name, we are continually looking away from the thing that can fulfill us while searching desperately for fulfillment. God’s jealousy IS His goodness. He could not be good if He did not actively seek to point us to Himself. He, who sent His own Son, so that we would not have to face the penalty of our own mistakes, our own brokenness, loves us and calls us His children. There is no love stronger, no joy more joyous, no pleasure more enjoyable than the ones we find in our Heavenly Father.
“For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but your received the Spirit of sonship. And by Him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” Romans 8:15-16
“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” 1 John 3:1