Over the years I’ve had a similar recurring conversation with each of my four children. It goes something like this.
“Does Daddy love you?” I will ask one of them.
“Yes,” he answers.
“How do you know that I love you?” I respond.
“Because you tell me?” he says, somewhat hesitantly sensing that there is possibly a “trick” coming.
“What if I told you that you’re a frog? Does that make that true, too?”
“No,” he replies, looking at me a bit puzzled.
“So how do you know that I love you?” I ask again.
“Because you show me…?” he answers, a bit unsure.
At this point I typically end my playful interrogation and ask him to remember the ways that I show him that I love him. In other words, what makes him feel loved? He then begins to recount the hugs, the time spent, the fun places we go, the things we provide for him, and on and on. I also take the opportunity to tell him why I love him and the things I love most about him. It’s always been a special conversation, but as we’ve repeated this ritual I’ve come to value its significance even more.
In an age when talk is often cheap, children need to experience that the “truths” they are told are in fact true. My “I love you’s” need to be backed up by a relationship and a way of relating that shows my children what real love looks like in action. And while this is true for all children, it is especially important for children like mine – children who were adopted.
It can be tempting for adoptive parents to treat adoption as a mere historical event – as in my children came into our family through adoption but now we are just a ‘normal’ family. I understand this. My children were adopted but that does not define them or us. Ours is a ‘normal family’, but in some important ways we are not at all typical.
My children, like others who were adopted, bring with them unique histories and unique needs – some more so than others. And these histories and needs bring with them their fair share of challenges, loss, and pain. While this does not hang over our family like a black cloud, it is a part of their story and ours. So we need to understand that our children’s histories, involving experiences of trauma, abuse, neglect, and relinquishment, have profound and lasting effects. But thankfully that is not the end of the story.
Each day I have the opportunity, relying on God’s strength and led by his Spirit, to love my children in a way that draws them closer to me and points them more clearly to Him. By doing so we do not erase their history. Instead, we allow God to continue writing a story with our lives – new chapters that honor their history and makes sense of their loss and pain. It is a story that involves intentional steps toward healing and restoration, for all of us. It is a shared story that brings us closer together and draws us closer to God.
Though I fail more often than I care to admit, there are few greater privileges to which I have been called. So I will continue reminding my children of my love for them — and reminding them that true love is always measured in more than just words.