This is part 1 of a 2 part series: Part 2
Alasdair Groves sits down with Julie and Greg Lowe and tell their adoption story.
Adoption Panel from 2017 ConferenceDownload here
Alasdair Groves, Julie Lowe, and Greg Lowe
AG: Today’s episode is a little different from our normal podcast. It’s actually part one of a two-part series on adoption I recorded with Julie Lowe and her husband, Greg. In this first part, we focused on Greg and Julie’s story, how they chose to adopt, what it has been like, and so on. And even though Greg will be upset with me for saying this (you’ll see why in a few minutes), I have to admit that it’s really humbling and challenging to sit with people who have chosen to adopt 6 kids.
Intro: You are listening to CCEF-On-The-Go, a podcast of the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation. Here at CCEF, we’re committed to restoring Christ to counseling, and counseling to the church. You can find our podcasts, books, articles, videos, and more resources for Christ-centered pastoral care at our website, ccef.org.
AG: Welcome to CCEF-On-The-Go. I’m your host, Alasdair Groves. I’m a faculty member here at CCEF and I direct the School of Biblical Counseling. And today I’m talking with my colleague, Julie Lowe, also a faculty member and counselor here at CCEF. And we have the special privilege of having her husband here with us in the office as well, Greg Lowe, who also counsels at CCEF. So we’re a bunch of counselors here sitting together.
What I wanted to do today is actually to have a conversation with you guys a bit more personal. Often we talk more sort of counseling topics, how do you help people — today I just want to hear from you guys, particularly about your story of adoption. You have spent a lot of time thinking about adoption, doing adoption in your own life. How have you guys experienced the process of adoption, how many kids do you have, what has been the process for you? Where are you at now? Just share a little bit if you would about your story of adoption.
JL: I’ll start. So how many kids do we have? That’s the easier one: six and counting. So ages 17, soon-to-be 16, 15, 14, 13, and 7 years old. We actually started fostering before we got married. I started fostering so our two daughters were our foster daughters, and when we got married, they were our flower girls in our wedding, got to walk down the aisle with us, and just happened to be the timing that we also found out we’d be able to adopt them at the same time as well. So it was a really neat way of talking to them about how God literally was bringing us together as a family. He brought them a mom, now is giving them a dad, and they would jump in and go, “Yeah, and God knew you needed kids!” And so instantly we went into marriage with two girls.
AG: Did you already know Greg when you started fostering though?
JL: Yeah. We dated for a while.
GL: We dated for a long time. And Julie had always had a passion to adopt and do foster care and felt like it was just time for her to go ahead and do it.
JL: Interestingly as well, we had provided respite (I primarily, because we weren’t married), but primarily I was providing respite for kids, so I would have them for a week or a weekend to give foster parents a break and had thought a long time about whether I would consider fostering as a single person or not. I was in my 30’s, just didn’t know for sure if Greg and I would marry or what our future would be. And in the process, I was providing respite for the foster family of our girls, and it became clear that that placement was not going to remain, so I had some time to really pray about and consider: would I take the girls on? But prior to that, we had had lots of kids, they tended to be older kids, minorities, kids that Greg and I would take to the Phillies games or take to the movies. And so for us it was kind of, even in our dating it was a natural extension of, “Yeah, why wouldn’t we want to do this?” And we were both counselors, we weren’t afraid of kids with behavior struggles or pasts, and really had a heart for kids that were hard to adopt. So we always presumed that we’d have a very multicultural home. We presumed we’d have kids 13 and up because we were just willing to work with those types of kids, and in our first year of marriage, we ended up with four little white kids under the age of 5. You can’t make that happen if you try, so there’s just an irony in saying, “Here’s what we feel equipped to do. Here’s what we think God is calling us to do. Here’s what we want to do. And then God gives us what He’s going to give us.”
Which is kind of our principle with our kids. One of the ways we’ve talked about it is, “God brings into our family whoever he wants in our family.” And we want to be open to it. We want to be wise, but that’s actually a little different than how a lot of adoptive families talk. A lot of the adoption books, which I love, talk about how, “God brought you to me” or “I went out searching for you and looking for you overseas.” And I love those stories and I think those are equally great, but one of our ways of talking to our kids is, “You know, the Lord knows who he wants in our home, and we want to be open to that, and we want God to bring who he wants in our home, whether it’s for a short period of time or longer, permanently or not permanently.” And this sense of God’s sovereignty and how he places people together, and trying to give them confidence that’s part of their story: God sovereignly ordained for them to be a part of our family.
AG: Those of you who are listening to this and can’t see us sitting here in the room, you don’t realize that I’m on my hands and knees on the floor bowing down before Greg and Julie who on their dates were taking foster kids to the Phillies game.
JL: Yes, we were.
GL: You know, it’s funny you say that because this was one of the things I was thinking about that I wanted to mention. One of the things I’ve had a little trouble dealing with over the years is when people think that we’re good people. They’ll say, “Wow you’re a saint. You’re going to go to heaven. You’ve got your ticket.” Or, you know, that kind of idea. And I’ve always felt uncomfortable with that and didn’t really know how to respond. I just came up with the idea of saying, “If adoption looks good, it’s because that’s God’s heart. And it’s not us. We’re meant to be his imagebearers, we are his imagebearers, and we’re meant to reflect his image, and God has a heart for adoption: He adopted Israel, He has adopted us and brought us together as a family, so that reflects His image. So I try to point away from myself to Him when I hear those kinds of things.
AG: Greg, if I can pick up on that and actually connect that back to what Julie was just saying: the language you guys are using about God has brought this to us. God is the one directing this process. You are very, very, both of you speaking that language. In some ways that’s sort of an interesting language to use for something that’s a fairly intentional process that you have to choose to be in. It’s not like you guys were sitting at home one day watching Netflix and suddenly four children showed up on your doorstep, like “Oh, I guess we’ll take them in, God brought them…”
JL: Sometimes it feels like that… <laugh>
AG: I can imagine. Can you say a little bit more, just for yourselves, of how that experience has gone? Greg, I think you maybe started to get at this earlier by saying, “Julie has just had a heart for this for forever, and I said, ‘Let’s do it. I want that, too.’” Help me understand that mentality.
GL: Well, I became a Christian at 13, and it was a very powerful experience of transformation for me of being wanted, being embraced, having a new sense of belonging, a future, a new identity. So that immediately kind of set my mind in the direction. And then you read in James that: pure and undefiled religion is to care for orphans and widows in their distress. So it was not even something I actually gave a lot of thought to. I just knew that I was going to adopt. And then when I met Julie, she was a foster care social worker at the time and it wasn’t much of a discussion for us either. It was a non-negotiable for both of us. We were like, “Hey, how do you feel about adoption? Okay, yeah. Yeah.” And that was it.
AG: Well, and she liked the Phillies.
GL: Yeah, I didn’t hold that against her. <laugh> Yeah, there actually wasn’t a lot of discussion for us. It was just, how was it going to happen? Julie was already doing respite care as a social worker, so I knew she knew how to think about those things well, and her heart was broad and embracing, and that was my heart, too. So we never actually really said, “How many kids do you want? 4-6 maybe? Something like that?” That was about the extent. We were doing, as Julie said, respite care, and it’s not – you know you hear about international adoptions, people paying a lot of money — well, there’s a ton of need right here. Our children were all foster children that we had fostered to adopt, where there’s potential they could go back to their family. So it was a little anxiety-producing at times, trusting in God’s providence, that He’s going to bring the children to us that he wants to have in our home, like we said. But always the chance that they could’ve left, so just letting God lead and trying to be obedient and love the people around us.
JL: Yeah, that was the hard part about doing foster care. At least with adoption, you know how it’s going to end. The process. There can be heartache in them as well…
AG: You hope you know at least.
JL: Yeah, exactly. With foster care we were intentionally taking children that we knew the goal was for them to return to their birth family, and in the ideal world, that should happen. We want to want that for them. But your heart gets attached and you grieve and you fear and you worry and you want them for yourself as well. And holding all that out saying, “Lord, even then do what’s best.” And some of our kids, we took knowing that we were moving towards adoption, but again, there’s always the legal risk.
AG: It’s interesting. I mean, I’m sort of reflecting out loud here. It seems like part of why you’re both so able to say, “God has brought these kids to us. God made this family,” is because you’ve been faithful in taking smaller steps. It’s not like you started from, “Hey we’re a couple and we’re going to go find ourselves an adopted child in whatever country we have to go to.” (Which again is wonderful —I don’t mean to say that in any way contrasting as if one is good and the other is bad). Just where you have come through the process is, it’s sort of these little steps of, “Well, I’m going to do some respite care. I’m going to do some fostering. In this system, I know about these kids or how this kind of thing works even if it’s not a specific child I’m thinking of.” So by taking little steps of serving, you really have ended up in places where it’s like, “Okay, well these kids that I’m caring for right now, maybe we could actually adopt them.” It’s not this abstract concept of, “Let’s do adoption.” Which is where you started, Greg, at 13 — “This is how the Lord has treated me and of course this is where I’ll go.” But that’s really helpful for me to think of. I feel like you guys are doing that dance that’s the whole Christian life of, God is utterly in control and we respond to that in faithfulness, little by little, not knowing where it’s going to land. How many times do you start a ministry or parenting or anything being like, “Oh, I know exactly where this will land in 10 years?” Never. And yet in each step, when there’s that responsiveness to what God is doing around you, because you’ve put yourself in the way of his giving you the opportunity… that’s interesting. I haven’t thought about easing one’s way into it in that sense.
JL: Yeah, and our story, we don’t hold out as the model for how everybody’s story should be. That’s true with every family, but even with adoption, some people are called to international or domestic, or the special needs, and things that I would feel ill-equipped to deal with, others God gives them a heart to do that. So our story is simply that – it’s just our story and how we learn to navigate it and trust God in the midst of it.
GL: Yeah, kind of blooming where you’re planted is how I like to say it. Just seeking to be faithful.
JL: So we went into marriage with two girls. Within the first year of marriage, we were approached with two little biological brothers. So in our first year of marriage, we had four children, and…
GL: And a mortgage and dogs and…
JL: Full-time ministry work… And at that point we probably thought we were done, but we were still providing respite and doing fostering, and that’s how the majority of our kids came to us. And we’ve had kids come and go, we’ve had some heartbreaks of saying goodbye to little ones, and just continue to say: “All right, well, God knows who’s going to be in our home.” And probably about two years ago, we took on a sixteen-year-old teenager, which is probably one of the things we said we would never do.
GL: That’s true. That’s exactly right.
JL: And we love him, he’s great, we’re so glad he’s a part of our family. But there’s probably few things in life we’ve said “Never” to, and those seem to always come to fruition. <Laugh>
AG: Everybody says it, right? Never say never. <Laugh> Will you guys say a little bit — this is coming from a couple different angles now, but just the heartache, the uncertainty – how have you guys dealt with that, and how have you dealt with that with your kids? That, to me, I mean I hear you guys tell your story and I’m just giving a summary version here, but it’s really hard for me to get my own mind around the level of vulnerability that you guys have chosen to invite into your lives and into your home, both by having the uncertainty of the fostering issue and then you adopted children by definition are coming to the table with serious sense of loss and challenge. How have you guys dealt with that? How have you helped your kids deal with that?
JL: One way has been with our kids always being honest. Our strong belief is that this is God’s story for them. It’s God’s story for us, but it’s God’s story for them. So we never presume shame in any part of their story. It’s God’s story to tell. There’s wisdom in how we retell their story to them. There’s developmental appropriateness to details they know and don’t know, but we never presume we need to hide their story for them. And in doing that, there’s a lot more confidence to say, “Yeah, there’s hard chapters of your story, but God knows that, and He’s redeeming all of it, and not one piece will be lost. Not one piece of the story is unimportant.” And so again, we hold the responsibility of pointing them to the Lord in the midst of their story. That author of the story knows what he’s doing. So the emphasis isn’t in the hard things of their story or trying to paint over them like there weren’t any hard things. It’s saying, “God knows.” And that has encouraged me, too, as much as I’ve had to say it to them. It helps me to remember, “Lord, you are the author of our story. You know what we need. So help me to trust you. Though this hurts and I think my heart will never recover if you take this child from us, help me to trust that you are good.”
GL: Yeah, and in some ways it’s no different than any family. God brings natural children into your family and they have struggles or they don’t, some are gifted in some ways, some struggle in some other ways. You don’t know the future and you’re just called to love them and show them their need for Christ and point them to him as their Savior…
JL: Though I have to confess, there are multiple times when we didn’t know if we would be able to adopt our little guy, Connor, he’s our youngest. And I’d pray, and I’d feel the frustration of: What parent has to worry about this child being taken from them? And how hard that was as a foster parent potentially moving toward adopting to think that I’ve fallen in love with this little one and God could take him from me. That feels so unfair.
GL: Yeah, I mean, but also there are people who have lost children who continue to struggle with that same exact kind of fear. “How would I survive should this child not be here, be taken from me?”
AG: I feel like the conviction in my own heart just hearing the way you guys are processing this, as I’m processing it with you here today is just, there is this false dichotomy that’s so easy to live with, as if, oh adoption is full of risk and vulnerability and hardship and challenge, but if you just keep your safe little family over here that’s biological, then you can avoid heartache and whatever.” And on some level, there is a practical common sense reality to the fact that there are struggles you don’t have to deal with. Like when you’re sitting there and you fall in love with this child, you do not have the right…
JL: He’s literally not mine.
AG: To continue to be his parent unless it’s granted to you. That’s an inherently scary place to live. But ultimately, that is no different than what any of us live with every day, like you said, Greg. We live, every one of us — our children are not our own. And that is our greatest hope even though it’s a source of just enormous fear to realize that our kids, they are the Lord’s. And whether they’re our biological children, adopted children, foster children, children in function rather than children formally, children whom we have lost to death or miscarriage, the list goes on of all the different ways that you could interact with those you would consider your children. But how true and how right what you guys are highlighting: This is not ours. I feel like you guys have been forced to live with that at a much more direct level than most parents have to, and I just so appreciate the challenge of that to my own heart today of: Will I live as if my children truly are a gift to me to which I do not have a right? Especially at 2am when you’re up with them and they’re fussing and whining. Am I going to treat this child as a gift and it’s a privilege to get to be, to have this child in our family that the Lord has constructed? You’re rearranging my mental furniture today, and I really appreciate it.
Greg, would you be willing to pray for your family and for all those who are listening in as they think about their own family in light of the conversation?
GL: Let’s pray. Lord, we thank you for all this discussion. I pray that we would consciously live in the way that Alasdair was just saying – that we would remember that more and more. We forget, we get caught by our own agendas for what we want our family to look like and what we want to happen, but may we all remember that truly we’re called to work ourselves out of a job as a parent, to help our children be self-aware, and to know their need of you and to look to you for life. So as this information goes forth, I pray it would be a blessing to people and they would come to know you more deeply as a result. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Outro: Picking a resource to offer as a follow-up to today’s episode was easy. We just did a panel on adoption with four couples at CCEF who have all adopted. The panel was at our national conference. And it was from my perspective the best panel we’ve ever had at a conference. You can download the whole panel for free at our website, ccef.org/podcast, right next to the link to the link of today’s show. It’ll be free until our next episode gets posted. If today’s show or any show makes you want to get in touch with us with questions or suggestions, feel free to email us at [email protected]. ‘Til next time, blessings.