I’ve thought a lot about my legacy lately. As a former graduate student of Penn State University, the news of sad problems there has not left my heart without mark. I am most sad for the little boys whose lives were forever changed by a man that was supposed to be someone trustworthy, but was really a predator. I am also sad for the people who have lost their jobs these last 24 hours. Joe Paterno, one of the “greatest” coaches of all time, a man whose life has shown evidence of his care for others and his faith, has lost his job. He said he wishes he’d done more when his former friend’s actions were exposed, and he regrets he did not. This is not the legacy he wanted to leave, yet all the evidence of good in his life will be forever tarnished because of this. Sandusky’s sins have affected far more many people than himself, the boys, and their families. Sin has a far-reaching ripple effect.
My two youngest kids have experienced horrific trauma. Their biological parents’ legacy is one of horrific pain in their lives. I don’t know, but I imagine their biological parents are also the product of a legacy of pain. I know for certain they are a product of generations of deprivation and corruption. While my kids are now safe, loved, and receive the care they need, the traumatic legacy of their biological family will forever affect them. It will forever affect my husband and me, because we now work to heal the hurts those people caused. Often, we also experience our children’s anger which should really be directed toward them and not us. Their legacy also affects our kids’ therapist, their teachers, their youth ministry directors, their older brothers (my biological sons), and our friends. My kids’ biological parents' horrific choices, even years later, have a far-reaching ripple effect.
The legacy I want to leave my children is one of strength and of grace. I want to leave them with the emotional and social tools they need to succeed in life, to be happy, and to raise a whole family. I want them to be thankful. That is a challenge for children who have been through what mine have been through, but it is a challenge of hope and of thankfulness.
A game I recommend for families with older children is the Family Dinner Box of Questions. This is a game that gets the family talking. No one wins, but everyone wins when someone has an “ah ha” moment. We had an “ah ha” moment recently. I don’t remember the exact wording on the question, but roughly it was, “What is something you say a lot that you don’t really mean?” My hurt son surprised us with his reply (actually he shocked the sugar outta me). He admitted, “I say I wish I was never adopted, but I don’t really mean it.” Now, if you’re a trauma mama of an internationally adopted older child, you know this is huge. A legacy of love is beginning to develop. It doesn’t happen overnight. We’re home more than four years now and while we’ve heard our son say, countless times, “I wish I was never adopted,” we have only ever once heard, “I don’t really mean it.”
I think my message here, fellow trauma mama, is that our legacy matters for our kids. Who we are with them, what we teach them, and how we are there consistently (even if not perfectly) matters. As hard as it is to hang in there some days, it matters. Focus on the progress and not on the problems. Focus on the strides they’ve made. Focus on the one time they’ve admitted they didn’t really mean it those hundreds of times they said something to hurt you.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. – Philippians 4:8