Check out Pam Watt’s adoption story below as part of Adoption Awareness at Harris Creek. For more information on how to get involved with adoption, check out our website: www.harriscreek.org/connect/missions.
A Better Definition of Love
I once heard a parent assure an anxious mother-to-be, “We don’t just love our children—we fall in love with them.”.
That always summed it up for me.
When my children were born, I fell, and hard. I wasn’t just in love—I was besotted, like some Victorian romance heroine. I was enchanted by the feel of them in my arms, intoxicated by their fragrance. I couldn’t resist stroking those downy little heads, kissing those perfect little feet. Such love for them consumed me.
What a glorious introduction to motherhood! My heart was even fuller than my womb. For me, such passion was as inevitable as the labor pains. If delivering my children was challenging, loving them was effortless. It wasn’t childbirth that was natural—it was falling in love with my children. It was the only way I knew how to be a mother.
Growing up as an adopted child surrounded by love, I also knew that such feelings had nothing whatsoever to do with biology. My identity was grounded on the rock-solid assurance of my mother’s devotion. As described in the adoption poem, my mom was one who “never forgot for a single minute, that I didn’t grow under her heart, but in it.“ I had every reason to believe that a mother’s love just came naturally with the baby.
With these assurances in mind, my husband and I answered God’s invitation to become adoptive parents ourselves. At His urging, we prepared to welcome our third child through an international adoption. The process was especially difficult, but I endured my “paper pregnancy” like any expectant mom, eagerly anticipating the arrival of our daughter. As I “labored” with stacks of paperwork, home visits, and other challenges, I was confident that these efforts would be rewarded. I knew that my joy was certain to outweigh every trial.
As I left for China, I didn’t know quite what to expect from such a unique delivery, but if anything, I felt sure it would be even more wonderful. My two-year pregnancy was about to end, and without even a single contraction! At long last I entered the hotel, and walked up the stairs that led me to my baby. The setting was beautiful and perfect; my daughter, even more so. However, something was wrong, and it appeared to be with me. Where was my excitement? My happy tears? What I had envisioned as a joyful reunion felt more like a strangely awkward blind date.
I was disappointed, but still hopeful. Surely it was only a matter of time. In the following days, I continued to care for Elizabeth, hoping desperately that my maternal instincts would eventually kick in. However, while I acted like her mother, I couldn’t make myself feel like it. As we prepared to fly home, the only thing I felt with any certainty was a growing sense of panic. If I didn’t feel like her mother, how could I ever be a good one? How could God ask me to pledge myself forever to such a total stranger? Bewildered and terrified, I cried out daily for God to take away my doubts and fears, but without success. It took every ounce of faith I had just to get on the plane.
I was hoping things might still improve once I returned home. However, even surrounded by my loving family, I felt just as empty and isolated as I had amongst strangers in a foreign hotel. Seeing everyone around me welcome Elizabeth so wholeheartedly only made me more miserable. I envied all the concern for her wellbeing, while my own suffering went unnoticed. On top of everything else, I also felt horribly guilty and ashamed—guilt for my unloving feelings toward an innocent child, guilt for failing as a mother, and far too ashamed to confess my struggles. How could I possibly tell anyone that I didn’t love my child? Worst of all, I was angry at God. After months of faithful obedience and sacrifice, this was my reward? More suffering? Why would He do this to me?
In the coming months, I did my best to act like a good mother, all the while feeling like an imposter. More than a year later, I was still pleading with God to give me the love I was missing. The love I needed. The love I deserved.
His answer was most unexpected: “You don’t need more love—you just need to stop measuring the wrong kind.”
“Pam, you are waiting on a love that you want—that makes you feel good. I never promised that. I called you to love her in the way that blesses her, and honors me—and you are doing that already.”
See, I had been wrong the whole time. The problem was not with God, or my daughter, or even me—it was with my pitiful, limited definition of love. To deepen my love, I had to broaden my understanding of it. The love God commands us to is agapeo, “the active love of God for his Son and his people, and the active love his people are to have for God, each other and even enemies.” In other words, love is not just an emotion, but action—a verb as well as a noun.
The love God offers us is as costly as it is precious. Previously, I had known love to be effortless, requiring little more from me other than I enjoy it. When God invited me to become Elizabeth‘s mother, He also invited me to love as He did, with a selfless, sacrificial love that took everything I had. To know love at its essence, I first had to see that it is lived even more than it is felt.
Once I grasped this, with great joy I could finally recognize how much I loved my daughter. My love wasn’t lacking in any way—it was more than enough. Enough to leave my family behind and fly halfway around the world to get her. Enough to overcome doubt and fear, board that plane and bring her home. Enough to stand before the judge on adoption day and promise to be her family forever. I loved her with every kiss, every hug, every tender word. There never has been a time when I didn’t love her, and today, as I continue to love her as God loves me, I know that there never will be.
“This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” –John 15:12-13, NLT
“Christ’s love is greater than anyone can ever know, but I pray that you will be able to know that love. Then you can be filled with the fullness of God.” –Ephesians 3:19, New Century Version