Saturday, April 16, 2016

Dr. Karyn Purvis: A Tribute to My Adoption She-Ro



I was sitting in my minivan, having just picked up my son Christian from his football team workout, when I heard the news.

The car in park, I noticed I had 4 texts. I assumed they were texts from a ministry I've recently joined. We've got a lot going on this month, and when a leader sends out a text, we typically start firing our responses back at her.

I checked my phone. It was from a member of this ministry, but it read differently from previous texts...
"Fyi - you may already know, I just got word that Dr Karyn Purvis passed away."
I was shocked. I kinda had a moment... To the point where I had to tell the kiddos not to worry. I'd be okay. I'd just read some bad news, but everyone in our family was okay. (After losing my parents so close together, I've had to give my kiddos this kind of information when anything unusual comes up.)

To say I was sad to hear Dr. Purvis had succumbed to her battle with cancer is a gross understatement. In this post, I want to share why.

But first...

For anyone who needs an introduction, let me share some background on Dr. Karyn Purvis. Dr. Purvis directed the Texas Christian University Institute of Child Development. She spent a decade developing research-based interventions for vulnerable children, or "children from hard places", as she referred to them. She received a bunch of awards and co-authored The Connected Child, which has become a bible of sorts for many of us adoptive parents.

One of her most notable achievements was the Empowered to Connect (ETC) Conference, "a two-day conference designed to help adoptive and foster parents, ministry leaders and professionals better understand how to connect with children from hard places in order to help them heal and become all that God desires for them to be."

Coincidently, my husband Anthony and I had just attended ETC on April 8th and 9th in Brentwood, Tennessee. I was so sad to hear Dr. Purvis wouldn't be present at the conference, because she just wasn't feeling well enough to travel. The conference was amazing still, and I highly recommend it.

Anyway, I could go on and on about her achievements, but I wanted to share my personal thoughts about Dr. Purvis and what I'll miss most about her.

Anyone who has benefitted from Dr. Purvis' work can attest to the deep and fierce love she had for children -- especially children that are often the hardest to love. Some have called her the "child whisperer" -- reaching the children that everyone else has given up on. Her gentle voice tone, her tender touch, and the way she kneeled to talk with children eyeball to eyeball... Her methods were not methods at all. They were simply an extension of her compassionate heart.

But her love extended far beyond the children she served. Jedd Medefind, President of the Christian Alliance for Orphans (CAFO) said it well:
"Countless parents and friends share the sorrow of this moment. We not only mourn the loss of a wise instructor and guide, but also sense the palpable absence of a beloved parent or grandparent who helped nurture us even as she taught us how to nurture our children."
I've heard Dr. Purvis speak in person several times and read her book, and yet I never personally met her. Yet somehow her love for others -- for me even -- was so evident. I knew she cared about children she would never meet. I knew she also cared for us parents -- parents that were struggling to parent our children with love, grace and compassion. 

I wish I'd read The Connected Child when I adopted my son Christian from a Russian orphanage over a decade ago. I wish I'd heard Dr. Purvis speak at CAFO's annual Summit or attended her Empowered to Connect Conference before our adoption. I wish I'd had access to her mobile number on speed dial back then. We struggled much with our cherub-cheeked boy that we'd just brought home. He was obviously distressed and missing Russia, his orphanage, and everything he'd ever known. He had lost so much in his short life of 2 1/2 years. I understood and wanted to love him well through his transition, but I was clueless about how to do so.

I told him "no" often, instead of saying "yes" a lot. I slapped his little hands when he misbehaved, instead of lovingly pulling him close and talking through his needs -- the very needs that were manifesting in his misbehavior. I revealed more exasperation and frustration on my face than love, grace and compassion.

A decade later... I'm learning. I'm growing and evolving. I'm becoming the mother - to all four of my children - that Dr. Purvis, and many other brothers and sisters like her, have encouraged me to be. I'm becoming the mother -- full of love, grace and compassion -- that God knows I can be.

I am forever grateful for Dr. Karyn Purvis whose impact has changed my life -- and now my children's lives -- forever. I'm grateful for her legacy. I'm grateful for the love and grace and compassion that God gifted her with, and that she extended towards others.

Even me.