Adoption Aftermath: Do I Have To Wait 40 Years in the Desert?


Note: As you know, this week we’ve celebrated the first anniversary of GLOW: Live As Light! I am so proud of my friends and fellow contributors, and the faithfulness and vulnerability they’ve demonstrated week after week for a full year is truly inspiring to me. I am honored to be joining the team, especially in such an exciting season, right at the start of a fresh year. As this is only my second post, I don’t yet have memories to share regarding this beautiful corner of the internet—so I’m just diving on in to what God has laid on my heart this week to write about. And that is what GLOW means to me: a chance to use my gifts to encourage others by pointing to Him. After all, it’s only through Him that we can “Live As Light.” –Sarah


A year ago our friend and children’s pastor Dave asked my husband and I if we would write something about our son Luc’s adoption story for the newsletter. We said yes! Of course! We’d love to! We’d be honored!

Then we promptly never wrote the article.

A few months later we apologized for our initial hastiness and asked if we could wait until the adoption was finalized, as things were still rocky and messy and the paperwork process grew more complicated by the minute. Emotions were raw and it was hard to see with any clarity what exactly God was teaching us, where this story was taking us, what the happy ending was going to look like. Then this past January, praise be to God, the adoption was finalized and our son, 4 ½ years old at the time, officially became Timothy Luc Tarleton. After having known and loved him for over 3 years, he is ours, legally and completely.


But guess what? Eight months later, we still haven’t written the article. And it’s not that we’re too busy or too lazy. It’s that we don’t know what to say.

Because things are still rocky. Still very messy. Emotions still charge through this house every day with great force.

Yes, in one very real sense of the word we have gotten a “happy ending” in that Luc is ours forever after years of prayer and work. And we don’t take that lightly, I promise you, as we know many fellow adoptive families are currently enduring the agony of waiting to bring their children home. But in another, equally real sense, it is continually sinking in that with adoption comes great trauma, and that trauma isn’t over just because we stood before a judge and changed the name on our son’s birth certificate.

The hard work of helping him through the trauma is only beginning.

Y’all, it is hard. My husband and I agree without hesitation that adopting our son has been the hardest thing we’ve faced in our nearly six years of marriage. I struggle with what and how much to share, as I want to be honest and convey the depth of the difficulty that is adoption aftermath, while still respecting my son and his story.

Let’s put it like this: what has made adoption so difficult for us was not the years of praying confused prayers, wrestling with God over what on earth He had planned for that beautiful little boy’s future, wanting desperately for it to include us but not being sure.

It wasn’t the fight itself, either: the hard conversations with his birth parents, the hiring of the lawyer, the ugliness of the battle, the laying down our pride to raise funds and ask for help.

Nor was it his initial introduction and attachment to us, although that too took months of reading books, consulting seasoned veterans, even sacrificing time to take a nine-week adoption class to figure out how to best embrace and welcome him into our family.

That all was hard, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the aftermath.

On a daily basis we fight to keep composure through explosive tantrums, recurring nightmares, and constant refusal to obey our family rules. We continually question how to both discipline and give grace when there are recurring attempts to manipulate and lie to us. We have to be emotionally ready to answer whatever question pops into his mind concerning his past caregivers and homes, and just take it when he says he wants to go back. We are continually changing our schedules, our home, and our commitments to accommodate his needs. We repeat ourselves over and over, day after day, the same verses about loving God, loving others, and having no fear—because repetition is supposed to work with kids, right? We celebrate breakthroughs, but they are so fleeting, so few and far between, we sometimes look at each other and can’t help but wonder: will he ever get it?

What makes it so hard right now is the day in and day out of it all; the never-ending reminders we must give him in all forms that he is ours, and he is loved.

Showing our son unconditional love, gaining his trust, and helping him heal from past wounds: these are things that we will be wrestling with for the rest of our lives.

But oh, the flip side.

Luc is teaching us more about God’s love than we could’ve ever imagined.

One recent night in particular, I was thinking back on the difficulty I’d had that day to mother Luc well. Nope. That sounds too poetic. Reality? Adam was out of town, and by 8 pm I had barely scraped through Luc’s bedtime routine, and at 8:01 I climbed into my own—tears stinging, throat tight—and reached for my Bible in desperation.

I usually turn to a familiar passage when I need immediate comfort from God’s Word; Psalm 33, Isaiah 40, Philippians 4, something like that. But that night I opened to Genesis and just started scanning the headers and names as they leapt out. And let me tell you something, the Old Testament came alive for me that night.

All those Bible stories I’d learned as a little girl, with the felt boards and the coloring pages and the VBS songs… those roots had held, and I saw it so clearly. The nation of Israel never stopped pushing their boundaries, questioning and running from God. But God never stopped pursuing His people. Because we are His, and we are loved.

And suddenly, it was like a bag of microwave popcorn started popping in my head.

Abraham! Lies to Pharaoh about his wife being his sister in Genesis 20. After all that God’s done for him, he’s still unable to trust that God will take care of him, so he resorts to lying.

Jacob! Tricks his father Isaac in Genesis 27. He selfishly takes matters into his own hands, manipulating and deceiving to try and get what he wants.

 The people of Israel: construct a golden calf idol to worship in place of God in Exodus 32. Impatience. Arrogance. Quick disobedience despite clear instruction.

 The Israelites again: repeatedly complain to Moses they want to go back to Egypt as in Exodus 16 and Numbers 11. Back to Egypt? After all you went through? Really?

 David. Isaiah. Questions, questions, questions.

And God repeats Himself over and over, day after day, the same truths about loving God, loving others, and having no fear:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” Deuteronomy 6:5

“Love your neighbor as yourself.” Leviticus 19:18

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

Obey my commandments. Be careful. Listen to me. Over and over He pleads with them.

Will they ever get it?!

I’m worked up at this point, flipping pages wildly, in awe of how similarly they behave, my relentless wild child and that stubborn bunch of Israelites. “I get it, God!” I proudly say aloud. “How frustrating to have to save them time and time again! How stupid, how arrogant they are!”

And then He lays down the hammer.

“I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.” Jeremiah 31:3

Luc is not Israel, and you, Sarah—you are not Me. There is nothing everlasting about your love. You ebb and flow. You have so much to learn about faithfulness.

YOU are Israel. I AM THAT I AM.

Humility floods over me. The Words pierce through my cloud of anger, and a vivid memory slices through of my yelling at Luc earlier that day. Of sharp words in place of kind ones. Of my own impatience. My own arrogance. My questioning, endless questioning, why did He entrust me with him? How does He think I can handle him? Why was I chosen to be his mother, when I fail so often, so badly?

And the Truth washes over me.

Because I am His, and I am loved.

No matter how much of an emotional train wreck I am. No matter how many times I fail. He will never stop pursuing me, loving me, fighting for my trust.

And I will never stop pursuing Luc.


It was a gorgeous Saturday, and we spent all morning outside. Luc is in his element when he is out of doors. It’s like he breathes more easily; he can stretch and climb, run, yell, and explore to his heart’s content. Without the confines of walls and chairs and a million don’t-touch-that’s threatening to suffocate him, his big personality can finally shine. We came outside that morning with all this in mind.

But that day, he didn’t rush off in search for the perfect stick with which to explore, like he usually does. He didn’t jump on his bike, or bother with the chalk. He went to a bush, and brought me this little bunch of pink flowers.


And then another.


And then another.


There are no perfect days, but there sure are beautiful moments. God has given me a unique chance to instill His love into Luc’s life. I choose to relentlessly pursue my son just as my Father relentlessly pursues me. No matter how long it takes.



Family of 6 portraitAbout the Author


I am a disciple of Christ, wife to a handsome M.Div. student who loves to preach, and momma to four 5-and-under precious, feisty kiddos who each have their own hashtag on my instagram (#nerdalert). The hubs and I actually met as MKs in Moscow, Russia, and the six years I spent living overseas in Europe and Asia gave me an unquenchable love of traveling, as well as a fierce desire to live my life looking at people through His eyes and loving them with His compassion. In this season of life my days are spent quizzing my husband with Greek flashcards, playing dress-up with my kids as a stay-at-home mom, cooking homemade meals for starving seminary students as dorm mom, and helping lead the MOPS group at my church in Fort Worth, Texas. In between I read a lot of books, take a lot of pictures, and constantly rearrange our furniture.

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  • Reba Cloud

    Oh wow. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I am right there with you. We are 8 years past the adoption and still dealing with aftermath. And it is hard. And I don’t know how to share about adoption when it is so hard and messy. But I have learned more about God’s love through this than anything else in our life. Thank you…

    • Sarah Tarleton

      Reba, I’m thrilled this post resonated with you. Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment, it’s encouraged me greatly! We adoptive mamas are all in this together, and I said a prayer for you this morning. 💗