March 18, 2009 by Stacy McDonald
God sets the solitary in families; He brings out those who are bound into prosperity… (Psalm 68:6)
[If you haven't yet read part one, Beauty for Ashes: A Testimony, please do so before reading part two.]
James and I were married in July of 1995, after a whirlwind courtship of less than two months. Jessica instantly fell in love with her new daddy (who later legally adopted her). Little did I know how quickly life would be changing! After discovering that James’s children were in serious trouble where they lived several states away, we sought and quickly won custody. I won’t go into the details, but suffice it to say that God worked absolute miracles and supplied all of our needs as He required us to trust Him through a heartbreaking and frightening ordeal.
You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; You have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness… (Psalm 30:11, NKJV)
When we went to church that Easter Sunday 1996, it had been less than one year since I had been a single parent, living alone with one small child. Now, just months after marrying James, I was the mother of five children, pregnant with a sixth child, and struggling with hormones and morning sickness! Talk about overwhelming!
One of the children struggled greatly with disturbing memories and unforgiveness. Because of all that the children had been exposed to, we faced many staggering trials. To say that retraining was necessary would be an enormous understatement. In addition, there were the typical emotional struggles that any child would experience during such an upheaval.
We reminded them of how important it was to pray for their birthmother and how they must learn to trust God’s sovereignty in bringing us through various trials. As difficult as the transition was, never once did any of the children ask to go back. Yet, while they were glad to be with stable and loving parents, they were less than happy about their new boundaries. We still had a long way to go before God truly made us a family.
God showed me that He wanted to start with my own sinful heart. Before the children’s arrival into our home, I had a Shirley Temple-like fantasy of what life would be like when they came. However, it wasn’t long before reality hit and real life began.
I was on my face numerous times a day crying out to God to give me a mother’s heart for the precious children he had given me. I always found it amazing how God gives mothers (in most cases, Christian or not) an instant and supernatural love for the children He places in our womb. The birth of your own child is an amazing thing: Here’s a child whom you’ve never laid eyes on before, yet the second they’re born (and even before), you would gladly die for them! I call that a “natural affection.”
Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? (Isaiah 49:15, ESV)
I found myself struggling with guilt and frustration. As much as I prayed for and loved these four children, I worried about my lack of natural affection for them. At times, I felt like I was babysitting someone else’s unruly children, rather than tenderly nurturing and training the children God had placed in my life. I was racked by guilt. What was wrong with me?
This was compounded by the significant discipline issues we faced. I struggled with pride and embarrassment when we went out in public; and I could detect in my own wicked heart, a growing sense of bitterness. I worried about the new influences that had invaded our home.
As the birth of our sixth child approached, I became depressed and fearful. Jessica was still very young, and had been sheltered in a completely Christian environment. Now she was learning “new” words; finding out about ungodly movies, slang, and music that I had carefully protected her from. She was suddenly getting a large dose of the “world,” and my “mama’s heart” was terrified.
God had taught me to trust Him with my child while I was a single mother; now He wanted me to trust Him to protect her in the midst of difficult times. He also wanted to stretch my mother’s heart to fully embrace the little ones I had just inherited. He wanted me to be obedient, trusting, and faithful. He wanted me to die to self.
He would be faithful to give me the “supernatural affection” I so needed and desired; so that I could truly love and nurture all of my children, not just the ones I had given birth to. He would be there leading me; I just needed to learn to trust Him.
He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young. (Isaiah 40:11, ESV)
God did a work in my heart and a genuine and tender love for my “adopted” children began to grow. I could no longer imagine life without them. The typical “natural affections” and even jealousies that a mother feels for her little ones began to develop.
As we grew together as a family, I wanted all of my children to be confident and secure in my love for them. One thing I did in an effort to communicate family unity was to place some of the very few baby pictures we had of the older children into collage frames, combining the baby pictures of everyone in the family. I tried to communicate, in various ways, the overwhelming love God had placed in my heart for each of my children.
While we saw consistent progress, our two oldest children were nearing their teen years and in many ways, it still seemed to be an uphill battle. James began to sense a growing conviction that we did not have the hearts of our children. We couldn’t figure out what we were doing wrong. We were involved in the life of our church and were a part of all the children’s programs. We disciplined our children diligently; we prayed with them at bedtime. What else could there be?
It wasn’t until we began to homeschool all of our children that God began a massive reformation in our hearts and in our family. We could hardly believe it! I remember waking up one day and telling my husband, “I’m almost afraid of what God is going to call us to do next!” So many changes. So much studying. So much rethinking of what we had always believed. Our family reformation had finally begun—we hung on for the ride!
He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. (Luke 1:17, NKJV)
We stopped handing over the training of our children—the hearts of our children—to others. Not only did we begin homeschooling, we also began attending a church that didn’t segregate the family. We began worshiping and singing as a family each day; and doing things together. We no longer had individual social lives with individual friendships, and we declined most invitations that fostered this. We became a deliberate family.
We discovered that we could have in our own family the comradery that is found in sports teams or amongst those involved in youth or missions groups—only ours would last for generations. As we sweat, prayed, worked, sang, wept, and played together we grew closer. Not only were we mother, father, sons, and daughters, we were brothers and sisters in the Lord.
We served together; practiced hospitality together; worked in our ministry; learned together; sang in harmony; and together we loved and cared for the bounty of babies God blessed us with! This is what made the difference! Loving, serving, and ministering together! When we looked at our children we began to see our grandchildren, our great grandchildren, and the generations after that. We began to parent with vision.
Most people are not even aware that all of our children are not ours biologically. In fact, our youngest children are still not aware of this. Thus far, we haven’t been willing to share the ugliness of adultery with such little ones. Though we have surely shared our story with thousands of people in private email groups, with church leaders, in counseling sessions, with homeschool leaders, and with close friends, we have still tried to be cautious of the settings in which we shared.
Some have insinuated that we “hid” our pasts to create a false impression of who we “really” are. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. In fact, the only reason those who have made this claim even know about our family history is because we shared it so openly—perhaps even too openly at times! While it is hurtful to be misrepresented, we realize that God is in control and we pray that our story can help someone else who is struggling.
Giving birth to a child is the easy part. Training them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord day and night is what takes work. While I may have only given birth to six children, by God’s grace, all ten of my children have this mother’s heart—all ten are equally my children. I love them all and am grateful to God for the overwhelming blessing they continue to be in my life.
While there have been times when James and I considered focusing on a ministry to “blended families,” we didn’t really feel qualified. We neither felt like, nor functioned as a blended family. We have never dealt with visitation issues, or the many other struggles and conflicts common to the blended family. We never called our children step-children, and they never referred to us as “step-parents. We were simply a family. We found we had more in common with families who had adopted, than anyone else.
God has certainly blessed our marriage. He has restored to us the years the locust devoured (Joel 2:25). Our children from our past marriages are whole and pure. They are ours—gifts from a merciful Father. Although each of them are now adult members of our family, in our hearts, they are still the “little ones” God used to knit us so closely together.
The five children from our union together are the reward described in Psalm 127:3. As each new child was born, it was a reminder to everyone in our family of God’s mercy and grace in our lives.
We still have struggles; we are not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. We didn’t begin ministering to families because we thought we had it all together. We began sharing our hearts because we were amazed at how merciful God had been to us. We knew that if God could reform our family, He could do great things in every family willing to submit to His ways.
God used our painful experiences to build within us a passion for family and for future generations that has been used to counsel many around the world. God took the broken remnants of our sinful pasts out of the ashes of despair, and created a family that understands and appreciates joy, forgiveness, and redemption in Him. He has done more than bless us with family; He has reformed its ruins. To God be the glory!
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