Jeremy Statton

Living Better Stories

What it Means to Love Unconditionally

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My wife and I adopted two kids from China 3 months ago.

I am learning about multi-tasking. I am learning what it is like to have a child with a disability. I am learning about myself and how impatient and selfish I can be.

But most importantly, I am learning about love.

Answered Questions

When we picked our kids up we had a brief moment to ask questions about them. For our daughter, the person that dropped her off was the orphanage director. She gave the impression that she knew our daughter, but her answers left me doubting otherwise.

What does she like to eat?

She eats everything. (Definitely not true and obvious to us immediately.)

Does she takes naps?

Yes, in the afternoons. (She hates naps.)

Is she potty trained? Does she tell you when she has to go to the bathroom? What does she say if she needs to go?

Yes. Yes. Chinese words we didn’t understand.

Sounds simple enough doesn’t it? It was anything but. Asking her to explain Quantum Physics and Quark Theory would have been more helpful.

photo by familymwr (creative commons)

The Games We Play

Food we figured out. We ate at buffets and let her pick out what she liked. Interestingly she loves fruits and vegetables. She will say no to a brownie and yes to broccoli.

We stopped asking her to take a nap after a few days. She would cry. And cry. And cry. She was exhausted, but still refused to take a nap. No problem there either. We just put her to bed earlier.

The potty was another issue, though. It would become a struggle for at least 6 weeks.

It is common for adopted kids to have issues with incontinence. The psychological effect of being adopted and then moved to a foreign country at the age of 4 is staggering. My daughter’s world was suddenly turned upside down. She lost control of everything.

So we tried to help her as much as we could. We developed an ear for her Chinese words for potty, which was no easy task for us. We would be sitting in the middle of breakfast and she would announce that she had to go. We stopped everything and rushed to take her.

The outcome was was pathetic. She would literally trickle a few drops. I get that little girls go often and very little. But this was something different. I could spit more than she peed.

We would rush back to breakfast and then she would need to pee again. Another trickle.

Going to the potty became a game. A way to control and manipulate her situation.

How Much?

Then it got worse. Three days later, she stopped telling us all together. If we tried to make her go on a regular basis, she would argue and complain and cry. She would let loose another trickle. And then 5 minutes later pee in her pants.

We wondered if she had a problem. Could she actually tell that she had to go?

She answered the question for us herself. We were sitting in the floor of her room playing. Suddenly she stopped and developed a distant look in her eyes. She looked down at her crotch. Waited 10 seconds. And then proceeded to tell me she had dirtied her britches.

Right there. In her pants. In front of me. With the toilet 20 feet away. Poop.

I was so angry I wanted to spit.

Angry and frustrated I told my wife the story.

“Why does she do this? This time it was clearly on purpose”

“It’s the only thing in her life she can control. She is still trying to figure this new life out. She is trying to decide if we love her.”

“Of course we do. We went to China to get her. We hug her and feed her and take care of her. Can’t she see how much we love her? What do we have to do to prove it?”

“Perhaps that is the question she is asking. How much do you love her? Do you love her even when she poops her pants?

Unconditional Love

I was offering my daughter love. But I expected something from her in return. I expected her to go to the bathroom in the toilet.

It didn’t feel like I was asking for much. I was tired of dealing with the crap. Literally.

But it was a condition. When she didn’t fulfill her end of what I felt was the deal, I became upset. My love was contingent upon her behavior.

But true love is unconditional. It does not depend on a response. It is offered and then when the recipient messes their britches, it cleans the mess up in joy. Thankful for the opportunity. And then it keeps on loving.

True love gives, asking nothing in return.

(Consider sharing this statement with your friends. You can tweet it by clicking here.)

The potty issues are resolved now. At the time it felt like an eternity, but looking back now it didn’t really take that long at all.

Thankfully, though, the issue lasted long enough for me to see God. For me to see the mess I make in my own britches. Constantly. And to see him gently cleaning up my mess.

Have you ever struggled to offer an unconditional love? Have you been the recipient of such love?

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About Jeremy Statton

Jeremy is a writer and an orthopedic surgeon. When not ridding the world of pain, he helps you live a better story. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook or Google +.

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33 Replies

  1. You are a hero. This is really powerful. Thanks for sharing your life with us.

  2. Oh boy, how many times have I needed to hear this! Thanks for the reminder of how helpless, defiant and still loved we are before God!

  3. Broccoli over a brownie?! Sounds like my kind of girl :)

    Thanks for sharing this Jeremy. Beautiful thoughts. And a good reminder that I have a long way to go with unconditional love, too.

  4. Katy

    I am sorry to say this brings back sad memories for me when I was a child. I always knew I had been molested as a child. Now at the age of 58, I started having flash backs. I asked questions of my mother which I had asked many times before and was able to determine thru the help of a psychiatrist and therapist where and whom was involved (there was no hypnosis involved). As I look back, I remember things I did that were clues to the molestation (I was a very small child when it happened). Wetting the bed was one of those symptoms and my mother would spank me for that. There were other things I won’t go into here. When I confided in her now about what I know and that I have a “feeling” something happened with my adoptive dad as well, who she is still married to, she basically turned her back on me. My adoptive dad has written me letters telling me I am “sick” and threatening to sue me. My mother tells me she thinks I am evil like the paternal (biological) side of my family. My father and mother were divorced when I was 6 months oid. It was at his parent’s house that the molestation took place. I asked her if they were so evil, why did she send me there? We are now not speaking which makes me extremely sad. I was simply asking for help to get thru this struggle. Obviously my parents do not know the meaning of “unconditional love.” If you have any suggestion for readngs, etc. I would greatly appreciate it. I have been looking to God’s word and leaning on Him for my peace which I know is the best solution to trials like these. Thanks for listening. Grace and Peace to your family.

  5. Giavana Jones

    An awesome story indeed. Thanks for sharing. I am not yet blessed with a child but this story rings true with my love for my spouse. I [thought] was prepared for what a “Christian marriage” should look like and got a rude awakening when my husband wasn’t doing what I thought he should be doing. I was indignant. A huge pill to swallow when I eventually received the rebuking by the Holy Spirit about the conditions I had put on my love and behavior toward the man I had vowed to love unconditionally. Definitely not a pretty moment for me but a lesson I’ll never forget and hopefully have matured from.

  6. shane

    Thank you doc for opening my eyes on yet another issue i stumble terribly on

  7. Great story. God shows us unconditional love all the time. Although it is impossible to come to perfection, it is important to strive to love others in the way that God loved us. Great stuff!

  8. What a great reminder of what it means to emulate Christ in our parenting. It can be far too easy to allow our impatience or unrealistic expectations to guide our actions rather than a selfless love for our children. My wife and I deal with this regularly with our high-functioning autistic daughter. Sometimes she is not capable of doing what we ask, and other times she is perfectly capable, but exerting control. We are learning to respond to both with love and patience

  9. Love this. Wish more parents understood it.

  10. I agree, no perfection, but if we love this way as best we can, it makes tons of things better.

  11. Good to hear from you, shane.

  12. I like how you are in the game. It may be the only way to really learn the lesson.

  13. I’m glad D is there teach you. : )

  14. There is a book called “Death by Love” by Mark Driscoll you might find helpful. It is a compilation of letters written by a pastor to people who have had to deal with similar problems as yours.

  15. My pleasure. It is always a good reminder.

  16. Angela

    “clean the mess up with joy” stopped me in my tracks. Was a foster mom for 9 months and the experience was devastating. Thought I would make a positive difference in the life of an “orphan” and ended up making a difference that I didn’t like in my own life. Raising that precious little girl for 9 months showed me that I was not the good samaritan I had hoped I would be. I found myself crossing on the other side of the road, never looking back. Thank you for posting this – putting into words exactly what I was feeling!

  17. Angela

    Dan Allender, “The wounded heart”

  18. The “tired of dealing with crap” line made me laugh out loud.

    Thanks for posting this…I hope to adopt myself some day, and this opened my eyes to some of the realities of it.

  19. Your wife is very insightful! Sometimes in the moment it seems personal and like there is no reason. Glad you are past the potty training!

  20. Beautiful. I will just say, that the way broccoli is cooked in China is SO MUCH BETTER than the US. I’d almost pick it over brownies. Almost.

  21. Darrell, I totally agree. Jeremy is THE MAN. Seriously Jeremy, thanks for sharing this.

  22. I’m laughing at this post but really it’s no laughing matter. As a mom of a four year old who has frequent accidents, mostly because she’s too busy to stop playing, I can so identify. Actually I’m convicted, I was tired of dealing with it tonight and brushed her off. On a broader level though I appreciate the truths you point out. Love cleaning up the crap of other people’s messy situations and choices is no small task. Thanks for sharing that hard learned lesson with us!

  23. Such a great reminder. Thank you for your example, Jeremy.

  24. I’m glad it made you laugh. I need to laugh at it more myself. By laughing it helps me to put the correct perspective on what is really going on.

  25. I missed out on the “better broccoli.” I was probably too busy eating brownies myself.

  26. It does seem personal when it just isn’t. In fact later, you wonder why you make such a big deal out of these things.

  27. I’m glad you want to adopt. It isn’t easy, but this is the stuff of better stories. Doing a hard work for the good of others out of love.

  28. Foster parenting, and the foster system, is incredibly difficult. I like that you saw you weren’t the good samaritan you hoped to be. The only way to change is to discover this about ourselves and then make changes.

  29. OK, I freely admit: I’m missing something here.

    How is getting upset not a part of unconditional love?

    Jesus loved unconditionally, but when the moneychangers were exerting control by extorting worshipers, He got a bit upset.

    God loves unconditionally, but during the final battle mentioned in Revelation, He’s going to make some intentional “pants poopers” a bit uncomfortable.

    I do get your overall point, Jeremy, but the implication here is that “unconditional love” means not correcting the problem. Granted, your daughter’s case is different than that of a child who hasn’t gone through such deep trauma for much of her life. How should you let her know, though, that you love her, but that her behavior isn’t something that should continue?

    I freely admit, I would respond your way or worse … that’s one of the reasons I am glad we cannot have kids, and choose not to adopt. I freely admit that I have no example of my own on how to do it “right.” Perhaps you could add your thoughts?

  30. The issue is motivation. When Jesus got upset about the money changers, his motive was his Father’s glory. I was angry about my own discomfort. I was angry about the inconvenience she was causing me. My love had a limit, and that limit came when the object of my love became undesirable.

  31. Judy

    Sometimes it takes longer. We adopted a 9-year-old boy (US) from a difficult situation. Everyone significant in his life had abandoned or rejected him. He didn’t trust anyone. It took him more than 10 years to believe we loved him and two more years before he could say “I love you” to us. It’s still not easy.

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