How To Be A Life Giving Mom

Erin Smalley

My Life Is Crazy Too is a series of reader submissions. Your life is a story. This is your opportunity to share about loving big in marriage, family, and faith to provide understanding, hope, and compassion in the unique situations each of us face every day. If you would like to submit a story to this series, please email me. Today’s guest is my sister-in-law (and best friend), Erin Smalley. She will be a writing contributor on my blog this summer!

I was adopted at the age of 6 weeks old.  After being in foster care for that short period, I was handed to my mom (or what some would call my “adoptive mother”).  I always loved my mom, but grew to appreciate her more and more when I had my own children.  And by the time she passed away, I knew our relationship couldn’t be defined by biology.  In fact, I told her during her battle with cancer that “I couldn’t imagine loving her more had she given birth to me.”  I am constantly amazed at the miracle God does in the human heart through attachment.

How wonderful is it that we can attach at one of the deepest levels (the mother/daughter bond) and sometimes come from the other side of the world?

As a little girl, I dreamt of two things when it came to adoption. First, I dreamt of one day adopting a child so I could offer this special gift to a child–just as I had received.  And secondly, to one day see a picture of my birth mother (especially her hips—to see what I was up against!)  Almost four years ago, we brought Annie home from China (after having had 3 amazing biological children).  The bond Annie and I share has confirmed the connection I felt with my mom.  If Annie wasn’t Chinese, I would not know that she didn’t come out of my body.

The “miracle in our hearts” has also occurred.

After many years of waiting, the second dream of seeing my birth mother’s picture transpired last Sunday.  Without getting into a very long story, I located a picture of 3 significant biological relatives:  my birth mother, my birth sister, and my birth niece.  As I stared at the picture, I pondered similarities—which I found a few; I reflected on my emotional response—which I didn’t really have one; and for a deep longing to be satisfied and shockingly, I began to wonder if my expectations had been realistic all along.

However, I can honestly say what I ended up thinking about surprised me.  I immediately had a realization of what my three-year old Annie (and any other adoptee for that matter) must have felt when she was escorted into our hotel room in Nanchang, China.  She was greeted by 5 Caucasian people who looked different, smelled different and spoke a different language.  She was then instructed that one of these strangers was her mother, another one her father, two were sisters and one a brother.  As I stared at the picture of my birth mother and sister—I couldn’t have called them “mom” and “sister”.

Inspiration quote

I realized that these titles are “gifts of the heart.”  I was flooded with emotions as I embraced the bravery of little Annie that 4th day of July in a dark hotel room in China.  It gave me deep compassion and a new understanding of the weeks of her hesitating, fearing and resisting fully letting me into her heart.  I was overwhelmed with thankfulness that she felt safe enough to eventually give me this gift.  Really, that she “lets” me be her mom.

As I gazed at the picture one last time, I realized several things:

  • My birth mother gave me the greatest gift she possibly could—the gift of life.  She allowed me to be raised by another woman who couldn’t offer me the physical gift of life, but the gift of life in my heart.
  • Being called mom is a high privilege.  Although I became a mom both through biology and adoption, I realized there are great blessings, power, influence, and responsibility when it comes to being a mom.  We have the power of life and death—that is heart life and death—all based on the choices we make each and every day as we interact with our kiddos.  I want to be a life giver—especially of their hearts!
  • As I thought of Annie and the trepidation she experienced to let me into her heart, I realized that being her mom is something that I cannot take for granted.  If you’ve adopted, you may be in the middle of waiting for your child to let you in—I just want to encourage you—it’s worth the wait.  It may come all at once or in sometimes in “baby steps”—but I promise you, the wait (and let me tell you it was not an easy wait) made it even more precious to me in the end.  It’s something only she could decide to give me—I couldn’t force her, demand it, or manipulate her to allow me in.  Therefore, I don’t ever want to take it for granted—with Annie or my bios—Taylor, Murphy or Garrison.

Being called “MOM” is a high privilege—one that I want to fully embrace—and I want to encourage you to do the same!

Erin Smalley earned a bachelor degree in nursing at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Arizona.  She worked as a labor and delivery nurse for 8 years prior to going back to school for a master’s degree in clinical psychology at Evangel Erin SmalleyUniversity in Springfield, MO. She enjoys speaking at women’s conferences, encouraging women to live in Christ’s freedom.  She is especially passionate about motivating women to invest in healthy friendships and relationships.  She has enjoyed working with her husband, Dr. Greg Smalley, doing marriage intensives and speaking at marriage enrichment seminars for years. Together the Smalleys encourage couples toward developing a deeply satisfying marriage.

Erin has published numerous articles for ParentLife, HomeLife, and Marriage Partnership magazines.  She co-authored her first book which was released in April 2007 entitled Grown Up Girlfriends, and she also wrote a premarital book with Greg, Before You Plan Your Wedding, Plan Your Marriage.  Erin has a new book coming out in July, 2014, The Wholehearted Wife.  She is also a regular radio guest on EverydayRelationships and also the Focus on the Family Daily Broadcast.

Currently Erin works alongside her husband at Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs, CO, where her family makes their home. Some of Erin’s favorite hobbies include exercising, reading, hanging out with her family, and bargain shopping. She has been blessed as a biological and adoptive mom of four great children—Taylor (20), Murphy (17), Garrison (13), and Annie (7).  Erin says that her three girls have especially blessed her by allowing her to learn alongside of them about female friendships.

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