Helping Struggling Adopted Teens

adopted teensAdopted teens have unique struggles as well as the same heartaches nearly all teenagers face. How might the gospel apply to struggling adopted teens? Like guest writer Ellen Castillo, I too have adopted children (now adults) and so I found her article wonderfully instructive and encouraging. (It appeared first here on the Biblical Counseling Coalition website and is used with permission.) If you or someone who know is a family created through adoption, please share this post with them. –LAM

A Challenging Journey

“And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me” (Matthew 18:5).

Twenty years ago, when my husband and I adopted three foster children, we were the only people in our small Christian community who were doing so. Our children were ages 5, 7, and 9 at the time of each of their adoptions. They all came from a background of abuse, neglect, and abandonment. We knew that this kind of background would mean that there would be challenges ahead, but we had no idea just how difficult those challenges would be.

When two of the children became teenagers, we were facing parental challenges that we were not prepared for, and our church was not equipped to help us. God was faithful to see us through those years.

One of the ways He has used those experiences in my life is that I became burdened to help other adoptive parents and their adopted teens through the ministry of biblical counseling. As I have counseled several adopted teens in the past few years, there are recurring issues that I have noted.

Common Struggles

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

Teenagers commonly struggle with their sense of identity. Teens who have been adopted have a unique form of this struggle as they have been removed from their birth family and placed into either foster or adoptive families. This can create a feeling of having nowhere to belong. This will often manifest as a lack of attachment to a new family.

The new family offers love, security, comfort and care. But at times the teen rejects all of their adopted parents’ sincere efforts, because of feeling displaced, confused, and disoriented. If they do not have the tools to communicate their feelings well, they may act out with poor behavior instead (lying, sneaking, anger, defiance, etc.)

The family often feels at a loss as to how to help the child overcome such poor responses to emotions and circumstances.

If they do not know or remember their birth-family history, there will be identity struggles. Some will struggle with a sense of (false) guilt over the birth family not staying together. Others will struggle with worry and guilt about being disloyal to their family of origin if they love and attach to the new family. These are all complicated heart struggles that must be seen through a biblical lens rather than just assuming the teen is being rebellious.

Adopted Teens and Trust Issues

Understandably, adopted teens may have trust issues. If the people who were supposed to protect them abused, neglected or abandoned them, certainly they will wonder if others will do the same to them.

Adopted teens may struggle with unbelief that stems from having been betrayed. This often manifests as lying or sneaky behavior. They might think, “I can’t trust, so I really am all on my own. I must protect myself at any cost, even breaking the commandments such as ‘do not lie.’”

Self-protection tends to trump God’s Word, even if the teen is a believer.

If adopted teens feel rejected, they often expect that they are going to be rejected again. Some will behave in such a way as to attempt to force the adoptive family to reject them because they believe it is inevitable, and they would rather have some control over the timing of it. Much energy is expended on acting out in order to force rejection. The outward behavior resembles normal teen rebellion, but the heart issues are actually rooted in significant fear.

Typical teen rebellion tends to have a malicious “I don’t care” nature to it. An adopted teen’s rebellion can be less malicious and more self-protective in nature. It is important to discern the difference as you seek to parent, mentor, or counsel the teen.

Applying the Gospel

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).

Practical help needed for those who parent, counsel, and mentor struggling adopted teens is found in God’s Word. Determine to do your best to discern whether or not the gospel has been understood and received.

Once you believe that the teen is a believer, be sure that you teach him or her to view the past through scriptural teaching. Focus on all that the gospel has provided. Talk about sanctification as a process towards Christlikeness. Be sure that grace and mercy are understood.

Teach God’s view of family and the impact of sin on the family. Teach teens to apply the gospel to hurts, struggles, circumstances, and fears. Show them in Scripture that their identity is not in their birth or adoptive family; it is in Christ. Teach them that the fear of man is a snare and that people will disappoint them at times, but that they can fully trust in Christ. They must see that the gospel applies to their salvation and to their sanctification.

Call on a biblical counselor with experience in counseling troubled teens if you need assistance helping an adoptive family. Many adoptive parents endure the struggles alone, but God’s design is that the body of Christ would be a safe place for help and hope.

In the gospel struggling teens meet a very relatable Savior. He has endured betrayal and rejection, too. He modeled forgiveness, mercy, and grace. The entire narrative of the Bible is a story of redemption, and teens need to view their own history in light of that story. This is our hope–and the hope for the teens we are called to love.

Join the Conversation

Do you know an adoptive family that needs to know the hope of the gospel? How can you come alongside the parents and their teen?

Sharing Hope with Your Heart,


Who Titles Your Life Story?

life story
Your life story has two editors–Satan and Christ.
One shames, the other gives you grace. Who will title your life story. This article by Pastor Bob Kellemen appeared first here on his website and is used with permission. Bob is a leader in the biblical couseling movement, an author, and a college vice president.

Two Editors to Your Life Story 

Your life is a story.

And two people seek to write the title to your story.

Satan’s Shaming Story 

Satan seeks to title your life story using the lens of shame, guilt, sin, and condemnation.

Satan’s story is the story of the law…which condemns.

Christ’s Grace Story 

The Author of Life is the only One with the right to name your story.

He—Christ Jesus—names your story through the lens of grace, forgiveness, the cross, justification, reconciliation, regeneration, and redemption.

Christ’s story is the story of the gospel…that forgives and makes all things new.

Consider David—Through Satan’s Law Lens 

If King David were to allow Satan to write the title to his life story, what would that title be?

“The King of Sin and Shame!”




“Shameful Failure!”

Consider David—Through Christ’s Gospel Lens 

Instead…Christ titles King David’s story. David ends up not in Satan’s Hall of Shame.

No. David ends up in Christ’s Faith Hall of Fame.

By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient. And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, and Jephthah, and about David and Samuel and the prophets. who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. (Hebrews 11:31-34)

Did you catch whlife storyo made Christ’s Faith Hall of Fame?

Rahab—the prostitute—is there—by faith.

David—the Adulterer-Murderer—is there—by faith.

That’s not enough? Here’s Christ’s title to David’s life story:

“Man After God’s Own Heart.”

Here it is, right in inspired, inerrant Scripture:

After removing Saul, he made David their king. God testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’ From this man’s descendants God has brought to Israel the Savior Jesus, as he promised. (Acts 13:22-23)

David’s life story is sandwiched by grace. By grace he is a man after God’s own heart. In the flesh he sins gravely. By grace from David’s descendants God brings forth our Savior Jesus.

Let the Gospel Rewrite the Title to Your Life Story 

Martin Luther understood how Christ’s gospel of grace rewrites our sinful, shameful life story. Luther points us to the center of Scripture—the comfort of the gospel.

“It is a falsehood, that God is an enemy of sinners, for Christ roundly and plainly declares, by commandment of the Father: ‘I am come to save sinners.’”

When we are tempted by the devil to doubt the grace of God, Luther encourages us to fight Satan’s condemning lies with gospel-grace truth.

When the devil casts up to us our sin, and declares us unworthy of death and hell, we must say: ‘I confess that I am worthy of death and hell. What more have you to say?’ ‘Then you will be lost forever!’ ‘Not in the least: for I know One who suffered for me and made satisfaction for my sins, and his name is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. So long as he shall live, I shall live also.’

Spit on the Devil 

Luther continues…

Therefore treat the devil thus: Spit on him, and say: ‘Have I sinned? Well, then I have sinned, and I am sorry; but I will not on that account despair, for Christ has borne and taken away all my sin, yes, and the sin of the whole world, if it will only confess its sin and believe on Christ. What should I do if I had committed murder or adultery, or even crucified Christ? Why, even then, I should be forgiven, as he prayed on the cross: ‘Father, forgive them’ (Luke xxiii. 34). This I am in duty bound to believe. I have been acquitted. Then away with you, devil!’

Luther urges us to “depend boldly upon this” in order to experience peace with God.

Christ is not the one who accuses or threatens us, but he reconciles and intercedes for us by his own death and by his shed blood for us, that we may not be afraid of him, but draw near to him with all confidence.

Luther counsels us to draw near to Christ with full confidence and assurance of his love. Awareness of God’s grace friendship has the power to entice prodigals to return home to the Father.

Believe that he esteems and loves you more than does Dr. Luther or any other Christian. The conscience, spurred by the devil, the flesh, and the fallen world; says, “God is your enemy. Give up in despair.” God, in His own Fatherly love and through His Son’s grace and through His Word and through the witness of His people; says, “I have no wrath. You are accepted in the beloved. I am not angry with you. We are reconciled!”

Title Your Story through the Lens of the Gospel 

Who is writing the title to your life story?

Is it Satan—through his condemning/law narrative?


Is it Christ—through His grace/gospel narrative?

Join the Gospel Conversation 

What is Christ’s grace-gospel title to your life story?

Sharing Hope with Your Heart,

Self-Care: Changing Bad Habits into Good (part 3)

self careSELF-CARE: As you follow in step with Christ and make godly habits that come from a changed heart, you’ll also experience joy.

In case you missed them, here are part one and part two in this series. So far, we’ve looked at the role of the heart in true self-care (part 1) and the first three steps in whole health wellness: recognizing emotions, choosing godly thoughts, and acting on renewed beliefs (part 2).

In the final part of this self-care series, let’s consider:

  1. Making new godly habits and sticking with them.
  2. Experiencing the joy-filled life.

Making New Habits

Acting on my renewed beliefs a time or two isn’t enough to make a genuine difference in my thoughts, emotions, and actions. We need a fourth step: making new habits that stick.

I used to eat super healthy foods and was a vegetarian for 14 or so years, and exercised regularly too. In recent years, however, I believed the lie I was too busy for regular meals, exercise, and rest.

God helps you and me break ungodly habits, including things like critical speech, self-pity, worry, smoking, chewing fingernails, people-pleasing, pornography, and more. In my case, the bad habit of neglecting self-care came from a heart of pride.

Sinful habits are not disorders or defects. Jesus Christ gives us victory over sin. You and I no longer have to live in slavery to sinful thoughts, attitudes, beliefs, and motivation. God himself provides the way out.

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. 1 Corinthians 10:13

Putting off pride, renewing my attitude, and putting on humility: This is my new thought habit.

New Habit Plan, Detailed

To successfully change a habit, we need a plan. The more detailed, the better. First you’ll see an overview below. Then I’ll share a detailed plan a counselee and I wrote together.

  1. Put off: Identify the ungodly habit that needs change. For me, I was irresponsible with diet, exercise, and sleep. For a counselee I meet by Skype, she is quick to argue with her mother.
  2. Renew my attitude: Me — I agreed with God that I was sinning by erroneously thinking that I was too busy for self-care, as if God didn’t stuff enough hours in a day. My counselee agreed with God to honor her mother and to choose Christ righteousness over self-righteousness..
  3. Put on: Me — humility. I am not Super Woman! I need good food, exercise, and rest…just like Jesus when he walked this earth. My counselee also needed humility as well as determination to speak the truth in love.

Together my counselee and I wrote a plan for her that looked like this:

  • When mother says something mean, quietly thank God for an opportunity to practice the new habit.
  • Remind myself of James 1:19, which says, “… Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” and that I need to change my attitude, desiring most of all to honor God.
  • Then speak the truth in love. Depending on what mother says, I may say, “I feel hurt when you suggest I’ve put on ten pounds and am lazy. You know I am an honor student and my clothes fit as they always do. I want you to know that I’m making a new habit to speak the truth in love. This is what the Bible tells me to do.”
  • Proactively and regulary choose words that build up, saying something like, “Mom, I love you” or “Great to see you!” or “Just want you to know I appreciate that you want the best for me” or a simple “Thank you,” always with a loving tone of voice and friendly body language.

body languageWhen making a new habit pattern, we need to repeat it many times for it to take hold. In counseling others, I’ve discovered that this step of forming new godly pattern is challenging and part of the reason why we need our brothers and sisters in Christ to come alongside us and encourage us.

What bad habit does God want you to replace with a godly habit? What obstacles are in the way? How might other Christians helped you?

Receiving Joy in the Journey

What I learned in this self-care journey may sound kind of crazy. It’s counterintuitive. My avoidance of true self-care fed my sinful appetite to live self-sufficiently and was, in fact, self-indulgent. Does this make sense?

For me, counseling my heart has meant stopping to rest and eat well and exercise.

I thank God that my poor self care didn’t create a health crisis. Rather, fear crept in and settled in my heart and mind. This is equally bad, this unsettling. Yet it has resulted in my obeying God’s call for heart change, which is always good. He knows what you and I truly need.

A quick review of the biblical counseling journey:

1. Recognizing your difficult emotions.
2. Identifying your faulty thinking.
3. Acting on renewed beliefs.
4. Making new habits.

As I continue my journey, how may I pray for you? All of us need God’s help, and he’s faithful. How we handle our everyday problems reveals our hearts: our desires, our motivations, our beliefs, and our thinking.

When God shows us that our hearts are self-centered, he gives us everything we need to live life according to his plan, which is what any true Christian really wants, right?

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. 1 Peter 1:2-4, ESV

Sharing Hope with Your Heart,

Self-Gratification: Gift or Sexual Sin?

self-gratificationSelf-gratificaiton, also called masturbation, is the topic of biblical counselor Julie Ganschow’s all-time favorite posts on her blog, appearing first here and is used with permission. Julie is also listed in Heart2Heart Counselor Directory on my website. (If you are a conselor and would like a listing, let’s talk.) –LAM

heartThis issue has been a long time in coming to the blog. I undertake it with some fear and trepidation because of the sensitivity of the topic in such a public forum. However, because this topic holds such power over so many women I will enter into this arena for your benefit and for the glory of God.

A few things for you to know:

Self-gratification (masturbation, self-stimulation, self-sex) has become a literal epidemic among women, including Christian women.

I have counseled many, many women who are struggling with this issue. They have no idea where to turn for information or help. They believe it is sinful and are burdened with guilt and shame. These women are fearful of being discovered and their secret being uncovered. They are afraid of being judged.

As with every topic we look at on this blog, we have to go to the Scriptures to see what God’s Word says about the issue. What we will quickly learn is there is no direct reference or prohibition to masturbation in Scripture.

There are certainly direct commands to avoid types of sexual behavior such as adultery (Ex. 20:14), bestiality (Lev. 18:23 , homosexuality (1 Cor. 6:9), fornication (Eph. 5:3), orgies (Rom. 13:13; Gal. 5:21) and the like. But nothing that directly tells a person not to participate in self-gratifying sexual conduct. There is nothing telling a person to do it either.

Now before you think there is a green light to go forward with the behavior, let me clearly state I am not saying that.

My task is to present what the Word of God says about this topic, and I must be true to the text. I cannot say the Bible says something that it does not say. What is required is that we look further at what Scripture says about sexual immorality to determine if despite masturbation not being specifically mentioned, it is included in some other aspect of that group of sins.

Self-Gratification and Porn

Most people who engage in this practice achieve a state of arousal by viewing or reading pornography. This is either hard-core or suggestive enough to bring arousal to the forefront of the mind. Because the mind is so effective at storing information, many times a person can recall something they viewed or read previously to meditate or play over in their thoughts at any time.

I think we all would agree that the consumption of pornography of any kind is sinful. It is at the least voyeurism and at the most adultery. Pornography both creates and feeds sinful lusts in the flesh, something Scripture commands us to abandon.

For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. 1 Peter 4:3

Debauchery (extreme indulgence in immorality) will be the inevitable result of pornography. While many claim to be able to “moderate” with pornography, statistically people gravitate toward more and more forbidden behaviors as they view it. This in my opinion is one evidence that our flesh grows more corrupt (Eph. 4:22) the more it is fed.

Secondly, Scripture is also clear on our obligation to put to death the desires of the flesh.

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality (pornea- unlawful lust), impurity (physical or moral uncleanliness), lust (suffering a passionate lust), evil desires (a longing for forbidden desire) and greed (covetous practices), which is idolatry. Colossians 3:5

More Questions About Self-Gratification

Is it immoral?

The question before us then is, is masturbation a form of sexual immorality? Based on the above Scripture, I would say it is. Self-sexual stimulation stirs up an unlawful lust and leads to forbidden desires and passions that cannot be righteously satisfied.

It becomes idolatry when satisfying those desires is more important than glorifying God.

What about widows and divorced women?

A common complaint from women is with respect to what to do with “illegitimate” arousal. This is arousal that is a result of prior sexual contact and having that person or practice removed from your life. This can take place in the life of a widow, a divorced woman, one who is no longer living with a man, or someone who wants to break free from the old habits of self-gratification.

Those desires are still there and are used to being satisfied. In the case of a widow or divorcee sexual satisfaction was a part of normal life, and is now history.

I believe the admonition to put to death the desires of the flesh applies to all forms of desire that cannot be righteously satisfied within the bounds of a marital relationship. Widows are encouraged to remarry rather than burn with passion (1 Corinthians 7:8-9). I believe that women who are divorced having been abandoned or who have been given clearance by their churches to remarry in the Lord would also fall into that category.

As for the rest, Scripture commands them to put to death the desires of the flesh.

What’s the godly way to handle self-gratification?

If we are commanded to put something to death, that sounds very final to me. To put it to death means to snuff the life out of it, to kill it off, to cut off the flow of its life blood. In the case of sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires that would mean to stop doing anything that keeps those things alive. Those who struggle with any kind of sexual immorality have to evaluate their daily activities to determine what must be put to death to keep them from entering into sexual immorality.

For each person the trap is different, so I won’t list them. The origin of it all is the same for this sin as for any other: the heart. (You can check out these links here.)

Sharing hope with your heart,


Blended Families: What to Do BEFORE Marriage

blended families

Blended families: Ups and downs, joys and messes. If you’re in a blended family, then you know what it takes to bring together two families. It’s hard work, isn’t it?

But if you’re considering remarriage after divorce or the death of a spouse: What should you do before you marry again?

Two words: premarital counseling.

Already blended. . .and struggling? Counseling works for you too. Don’t despair. Be encouraged. At the end of this article you’ll find helps just for you.

Did you know your family is among the 40 percent of married couples with children in the US that are blended? This percentage counts full- and part-time residential step families with children under age 18 as well as adult children.

In this article, you’ll discover four main things regarding blended families:

  1. Take it slow!
  2. How premarital counseling works before remarriage.
  3. Helping the children.
  4. Encouragement for blended families.

Slow Down. . .When You Want to Speed Up 

After years of parenting alone, it’s tempting to “follow your heart,” as today’s popular mantra advises, and marry quickly. As Ron Deal of Family Life Blended says, “You cook a stepfamily slowly in a Crockpot, not forcibly in a blender! Kids need more time than adults to get used to the idea of a wedding.”

For example, consider a couple I counseled who married within months of meeting each other. Fiona and Eli (names and details have been changed) were previously married and have five school-age children. (Two of the children also live their mom during the week.)

The couple disagreed over parenting, handling money, and dealing with the ex-spouses, among other things. Both of them are Christians and declared their love for each other. However, life’s struggles created significant stress. Fiona became controlling; Eli backed away. Sometimes he moved in with buddies for a few days for a break.

Meanwhile, the children were confused and acted out.

As one spouse said, “I just want to live and make life fun. It seems that everything is a task. I’m just drained.”

Do these words resonate with you?

Did you go through pre-marital or pre-engagement counseling before you remarried? What difference has it made? If you didn’t have pre-marital counseling before remarriage, do you wish you had?

Pre-Marital Counseling Before Remarriage

First, during premarital counseling, you’ll think through the compexities of combining families and determine if the marriage is wise.

Second, you’ll discuss topics that may have factored in to a previous divorce — everything from communication and conflict resolution to parenting styles and personality differences. You won’t address every potential problem in premarital counseling but you will see the glaring ones.

Third, you’ll consider reasonable expectations between the children and the new spouse. Did you know that children cling to the hope that their parents will get back together? I did when my parents divorced when I was age eight. But when you remarry, your childrens’ dream dies. This is a loss for them.

Helping the Children

In premarital counseling, you’ll discover how to listen to the children–their hope, their fears.

You’ll also learn how to talk to the children about God’s role in blended families. Now they’ll have more people to love and support them! This includes the non-custodial parent when possible.

Sometimes chidlren become fearful that the new blended family will also end up in a divorce. In premarital counseling, you and your future spouse will develop a habit of praying with and for your children. reassuring them and each other that you choose to glorify God always.

5 Encouragements for Already Blended Families

Is your family already blended? You’ll appreciate these reminders from Ron Deal. I encourage you to peruse his ministry website, where you’ll find extra resources.

  1. SLOW your expectations of how quickly your blended family will harmonize. Deal says, “The average stepfamily needs between five to seven years to form a family identity. In movies, love between adults and bonding with children happens quickly; in real life, it happens gradually.”
  2. INVEST in your marriage relationship. It is the the new foundation for your home.
  3. BE a united parental team while building relationships with stepchildren. What about disciple? Deal urges, “Early on, biological parents should continue to be the primary disciplinarian to their children while stepparents build relationship, trust, and respect with stepchildren.”
  4. AVOID common pitfalls. For example, a child who says, “You’re not my mom, I don’t have to listen to you” is telling you about their sadness that mom isn’t here. Also, keep some holiday traditions while creating new ones. Money matters can be confusing too. Calmly discuss how you will balance your responsibilities to previous individual financial obligations (such as paying child support) while combining assets for the new family.
  5. STEP UP your faith. Spiritual resources help everyone in blended families find grace for each other and strength for the journey.

Sharing Hope with Your Heart,


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