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God's Family Picture

For Mary Beth and Steven Curtis Chapman, adopting children from overseas has done more than change the size of their family—it's changed the hearts of their biological children as well.

Back in 1999, 13-year-old Emily Chapman, daughter of Christian musician Steven Curtis Chapman and his wife, Mary Beth, began a campaign to convince her parents to adopt a baby from China. Five years and three Chinese children later—Shaohannah, now five, Stevey Joy, two, and one-year-old Maria—the Chapmans are now one of thousands of Christian families who have adopted internationally.

Steven and Mary Beth are the first to say bringing an adopted child into a family with biological children creates new challenges. Not only do parents have to adjust to a new child, but they need to help their other children adjust as well. Because adoption—particularly of older children—can involve issues such as past abuse, attachment disorder, or physical or mental impairment, families inclined to adopt often are wary of the impact these issues might have on their other children.

In this exclusive interview, held days before the Chapmans traveled to China to get Maria, Steven and Mary Beth reveal how international adoption has played a role in growing the faith of their biological children: Emily, 18, Caleb, 16, and Will Franklin, 14.

Christian Parenting Today: Emily's role in your first adoption has been well publicized, but how did your boys feel about the idea?

Mary Beth: For months, Emily wrote us notes telling us why we needed to adopt. In her last letter—a long essay detailing every Christian rationale she could think of to adopt—she added a P.S. saying her brothers thought it was a good idea, too. And she made them sign it. Who knows what she did to get them to go along!

But seriously, our children were old enough for us to talk about this decision as a family. Will was 9, Caleb was 11, and Emily was 13 when our first adoption took place. But they were also young enough that they didn't have full voting status in the Chapman government [laughing]. During the entire process, we were impressed with their hearts.

CPT: With the second adoption, they knew what they were getting into …

Steven: They were so excited, you'd have thought I'd told them we were going to live at Disney World!

Mary Beth: They were all for it. Still, even though they can't articulate it this way, they know that with every child we bring into our home, we're splitting their inheritance, not to mention our time and attention.

Steven: What they do know is that they'll have to baby-sit more, that they'll have to cut back on their activities.

Mary Beth: Most of the time they're fine, but of course they have their fits and get mad. Still, somehow they understand that on a spiritual level, God's changing the culture of their hearts.

CPT: How so?

Mary Beth: In our culture, most kids today live in a self-centered world that plays into their "I want, I need" attitude. Our children have been confronted with the fact that life isn't just about their agendas—it's about God's agenda. They don't always like that, but this experience is teaching them their wants and needs aren't the most important thing in the world.

Steven: It's been an incredible opportunity to give our boys little sisters. They're going to make the best dads. Caleb and Will Franklin know how to feed little kids, change diapers, and play "Pretty Pretty Princess." They're gentler because these little girls are around.

Even the hard times affect our children's hearts. When we announced we were going to adopt a third child, oddly enough it was Emily who resisted. Will Franklin followed her lead and said, "Enough is enough." Emily was in her senior year of high school, getting ready to go to college, and she said, "This one won't even know me."

Their response rocked me. I wondered, Is this a sign? I asked the kids to pray about the adoption, and told them I'd do the same. As I prayed, I sensed a peace about adopting our third child. So I told the kids I'd taken their concerns to heart but after listening to God, I felt it was right for us. Once I told them that, Emily immediately said, "OK, that's all I needed to hear. If I know God has told you this, who am I to question that? I'm your child, and I'll respect it." I like to think that as they see our faith guiding our decisions, they'll realize God will guide them as well.

CPT: Does it feel strange to parent young children again?

Mary Beth: A little. We do things so differently this time around! You throw all the rules out the window. For example, because of attachment issues, when an adopted child cries out at night, you go to her every time. Shaoey needs to know I'm always going to be there for her. That's stuff we never would have done with our biological children.

Steven: We also have some perspective we didn't have before. When our other kids cried at night, I'd think, I'll be sleep-deprived my entire life! Then all of a sudden, that's gone—and the kids are hardly around. When Stevey's crying at night, I know it will pass.

With our first three kids, Mary Beth thought she had to do it all, but now she knows she can't. The house is going to be a wreck, and we can either live with this constant frustration or sit on the floor and play with Shaoey.

Mary Beth: We're more aware of how little control we have over how our kids turn out. We made so many mistakes with our other kids, but fortunately they've turned out great! We now know God is in charge of this process; we just need to do the best we can.

That doesn't mean we won't go through hard things. A couple nights ago, Shaoey told me she missed China and her "birth lady." No matter how many princess outfits we buy her, how many books we read to her, or how much love we lavish on her, there's a hole in her heart. There may or may not be issues ahead because of that, but bring 'em on. Even if Shaoey turns 16 and says, "I hate you, I'm going back to China," I know God put Shaoey in our lives; God put Stevey Joy here, and God put Maria here. Whether it's all peaches-and-cream or it's miserable, this is God's work.

CPT: How can families discern if adoption is right for them?

Steven: If you've had the thought, there's only one person who would put that in your mind—the Father to the fatherless. Just having the idea indicates God's inviting you to something. Perhaps it's an invitation to support adoptive families waiting for grant money to adopt; perhaps it's more.

Every time I've brought this to God, I've said, "This doesn't make sense. I don't want to make a mistake. I don't want to do this for selfish reasons." It was as though I heard God chuckle and say, Do you really think this idea is from Satan—to adopt an orphan and bring her into a Christian home? When you look at it that way, even when adoption doesn't make common sense, it makes spiritual sense.

This is what God's called us to. He doesn't necessarily call everyone to international adoption, but I believe everyone's invited to care for orphans and widows. I know from our experience that when we accept that invitation, God blesses it.

After we adopted Shaoey, if anyone had asked me if we'd adopt again, I would have said, "No, this is it." But one Sunday at church, God knocked me on my rear. Our good friends have four biological children and four adopted, and have gone through some hard times with these kids. That particular Sunday morning, they were having their three youngest children dedicated, including a child they'd just adopted from China. I knew all the tough times they'd already been through, and here they'd gone and adopted another child! As this family stood before the congregation and the pastor talked about how faithful they had been, God clearly showed me this was a picture of his family. He told me, If you want to be part of what I do, this is it.

It was as though the Father had put his arm around me and said, "I want us to do something together. It's going to be hard, and if I have to, I'll carry you, but it's going to be awesome." I left church that day knowing that our family would keep growing. And we wouldn't change that for the world.

Carla Barnhill, former editor of Christian Parenting Today, is a freelance writer and editor who lives with her family in Minnesota.

The Adoption Option

November is National Adoption Awareness Month. If you've ever had an inkling God is leading you to become an adoptive parent or to support a family trying to adopt, there's no better time to find out what God has in store for you and your family.

Adopting a child: If you're starting down the road to adoption, check out adoption.com. This excellent website provides information on nearly every aspect of adoption, from the legal issues involved, to choosing an adoption agency, to helping your family prepare for the new child's arrival.

Supporting adoptive families: For many families, the biggest adoption hurdle to overcome is the cost. International adoptions can cost families upwards of $25,000. To help families deal with the expense of adoption, Steven Curtis and Mary Beth Chapman have developed Shaohannah's Hope Foundation, which offers financial assistance for qualified adoptive families. Visit class="artcite">shaohannahshope.org for more information on how you can get involved.—C.B.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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