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A Familial Bond, Forged in Faith

A young mother prays for a way to connect with her newly adopted son.

Christian Hendricks with his mother, Carla

I sat Christian, our newly adopted son, on the examination table for his checkup, required before we could leave Russia and my husband, Anthony, and I could take him home to the U.S. Already I pictured myself reading to him, pushing him in the swing at the playground, rocking him to sleep at night.

The doctor, a stern man, put his hand on Christian’s skinny leg and looked into his eyes. Christian’s sweet two-year-old face dissolved into a look of sheer terror. He screamed—an ear-piercing wail—and reached for me, his arms trembling.

I pulled him close. “Christian, it’s okay. Mommy’s right here.” It seemed like an extreme reaction, but then again he’d been through a lot in his young life. The doctor was all smiles. “You see?” he said in his thick accent. “Already he’s looking to you for comfort.”

Slowly Christian relaxed. I put him back on the table and held his hand while the doctor completed the exam. “Don’t worry,” he said. “There will be an adjustment period, but he’s a healthy boy.” I was still focused on what he’d said earlier.

I’d read that some adopted children have trouble bonding at first. Yet without my even trying, Christian and I had made a special connection, mother and child. A confirmation, I thought, that God meant for Christian to be part of our family.

I carried that warm assurance with me for the rest of our stay, on the long flight halfway around the world, even for our first few days back in our house. There was a lot going on.

Anthony had to get back to work. Kalin, our firstborn son, was starting kindergarten. Fortunately friends brought us meals, so I didn’t have to worry about cooking.

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Finally, it was just Christian and me, a whole morning to ourselves. The fridge was about empty. I decided to take him to the grocery.

“We’re going to have so much fun,” I told him as I buckled him into his child seat in the cart. “We’ll get you some Goldfish crackers, bananas and grapes. And you’re gonna love chicken nuggets.”

We went inside the store. I got our milk, yogurt and bread. We were in the condiment aisle when Christian reached for a bottle of olive oil. “No, honey,” I said, pulling his hand away from the shelf. Christian arched his head backward and shrieked. It was like we were back in the doctor’s office.

“Honey, it’s okay,” I said. I tried to hold him, but he twisted and squirmed and cried even louder. I could feel disapproving stares. I wanted to turn around and go straight home, but we needed food.

I raced through the aisles, grabbing peanut butter, pasta, carrots, peas and the chicken nuggets. Finally we checked out and I took him to the car, both of us in tears.

By the time we got home he’d calmed down. I still felt terrible. What had I done wrong? I wanted to make it up to him. I baked him four chicken nuggets and presented them to him in his high chair. “Yum,” I said as I cut off a small bite and held it out to him.

He stared at it then wrinkled his face in disgust, his lips tightly sealed against any possible intrusion. I went to pick him up. “Nyet! Nyet!” he said, pushing me away.

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Whatever I’d done there was no way to repair the damage. In fact, things got worse in the days that followed. The more I tried to bond with him the more Christian resisted.

He wriggled out of my arms any time I tried to hold him, scrambled off the couch the minute I picked up a picture book, wailed and writhed at bath time like I was trying to drown him. I didn’t dare try to rock him to sleep.

Was this really the same sweet boy we’d brought home from Russia? The one who’d turned to me instinctively? There were times he’d snuggle against me or smile when I stroked his cheek. Then something inexplicable would set him off.

There was nothing I could do to calm him. I worried. Had it been a mistake taking him away from the world he knew?

He wasn’t any closer to Anthony or Kalin. But they weren’t with him all day. I felt like I was walking on eggshells around him. All Christian would eat was yogurt, bread and chicken broth, plain foods I could only guess reminded him of Russia.

I couldn’t risk taking him to the grocery again or to story time at the library. The slightest thing would set him off. In desperation I resorted to sitting him in front of the TV and popping a Blue’s Clues tape in the VCR. He’d sit for hours enthralled.

But I knew that wasn’t the answer either. How could this possibly be God’s plan?

The one thing Christian and I did together—sort of—was go to the playground. We walked to the park two or three times a week. Christian loved zooming down the slides, running across the wiggly bridge and climbing the ladders. He even let me push him on the swing, but never up high or for long.

One day I begged him to let me show him how to catch some air. “C’mon, Christian, just trust me. It will be fun.”

“No,” he said. He jumped off the swing and ran to the slide. I retreated to a bench.

That night I poured out my heart to Anthony. “I don’t know what to do,” I said. “We’re just not bonding.”

“It’s going to take time,” Anthony said, “like the doctor told us.”

“It’s been five months since we brought him home,” I said. “What if we made a mistake?”

Anthony’s face grew serious. “We both felt the same thing.”

I took a deep breath. I knew what he was talking about. We’d first heard about Christian at our couples Bible study. A woman asked for prayers for a boy of African parentage living in a Russian orphanage. A social worker from our area had seen him there.

Out of the blue, I heard Anthony say, “Give us the information.” I looked at him with eyes as big as saucers. I’d had two miscarriages after Kalin. We both wanted another child. We were actively looking into domestic adoption. But Russia?

We needed to be sure. We asked God for direction. Then one morning I prayed and kept my head bowed for just a minute more. There was a stirring deep inside of me, not a voice, but the message was unmistakable: He is your child.

When Anthony came home from work he said, “I had the most amazing experience…the boy from Russia, he’s meant for us.”

We held each other tight, certain that God’s plan was already in motion.

That moment seemed ages ago now. I kissed Anthony good night and he drifted off to sleep. But I tossed and turned. Lord, I prayed, if this was meant to be, then what am I doing wrong? Please just tell me.

The next afternoon Christian and I headed for the park. He ran down the sidewalk, stopping here and there to inspect a fallen leaf or tramp through a puddle. I wasn’t through with God: Okay, it’s your plan. But I’m just not feelin’ it.

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We got to the park. Christian climbed into the swing. I halfheartedly pushed him with one hand, still continuing my harangue. I needed an answer. Maybe you got me confused with someone else!

“Higher,” a small voice said.

“Christian?” I said, wondering if I’d heard correctly.

“Push me,” he said. “Christian go up.”

Really? I pulled him back toward me, my hands trembling with excitement. I let go and he sailed ever so slightly upward. “Wheeee,” he yelled.

I pushed him a little higher. His hands held tight to the chains and he leaned back, a huge smile across his face. “Mommy,” he said, “don’t stop.”

It was such a small thing, a mom pushing a child on a swing, yet at that moment it seemed monumental, miraculous. I’d never thought about the trust required just to be pushed on a swing, let alone to be adopted into a family across the globe. Trust wasn’t easy. For Christian or for me. We would both have to trust more.

Slowly, step by step, our relationship grew. One day he brought a book to me on the couch and said, “Read me a story.” A few weeks later we were playing boats in the bath. Anthony taught him to play catch. I no longer cared that he didn’t like chicken nuggets. Yogurt was healthier anyway.

Nine years have passed in the blink of an eye. I can hardly believe Christian was ever that anxious, challenging child.

Today he loves to play football with Anthony and Kalin, while his sisters, Joelle, seven, and Jada, four, cheer them on. But to me he will always be a mama’s boy, a reminder that trust is a process, a journey of giving ourselves over to a greater plan than we can ever imagine, and believing that our every step is guided.

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