Book Review: "Things Pondered," Beth Moore’s story of adopting a boy and giving him back

Beth Moore published a book in 2004 called, Things Pondered: From the Heart of a Lesser Woman. It is a book of vignettes and poetry, recollections and descriptions of the various events in Beth Moore’s life from young womanhood as a bride through early days of her marriage, becoming a mother, and her adopted son. This book review pertains to the kindle version. Moore’s words from the book are in italics.

~Beth Moore & Privacy~

For all of Beth Moore’s outward seeming openness, her frequent discussions about herself, her thoughts, trials, self-esteem issues, sexual molestation, motherhood, and hysterectomy, she rarely if ever speaks of the fact that she adopted a son at his age of 4 and then at age 11 gave him back to the birth mother.

Her public persona is one which creates a (false) sense of intimacy with women, of being open and transparent. Her books and conferences strive to create an atmosphere of a slumber party, sharing secrets, and giggling over the love of our Groom Jesus. But when it comes time to be transparent in one-on-one situations, Moore is quite zipped up. Moore is “closely protected by assistants who allow very few media interviews. After several interview requests from CT, her assistants allocated one hour to discuss her latest book and ask a few questions about her personal life. Each question had to be submitted and approved beforehand, I was told, or Moore would not do the interview. Follow-up interview requests were declined. I was permitted to see the ground level of her ministry, where workers package and ship study materials. But Moore’s third-floor office, where she writes in the company of her dog, was off limits.” (Christianity Today)

There is some curiosity from people regarding the little-known topic of the son Moore adopted, named Michael. Though Things Pondered is about other events in Moore’ life too, the bulk of it is about Michael, and so will this review.

~Mary~

The title of the book refers to Mary’s thoughts when the angel told her she would bear a Son. (Luke 2:19). Moore speculates on what Mary was thinking, the nuts and bolts of Mary’s ponderings. Such speculations are not good and not bad. It all depends on the point of view from which they make the speculation. Moore is a contemplative navel gazer who talks about herself constantly and thus her p.o.v. stems from herself. Therefore the thoughts she imagines Mary to be thinking were also about herself. To wit:

In that moment a host of memories must have been dancing in her head. The angel’s appearance. His words. Her flight to the hill country of Judea. Elizabeth’s greeting. Their late-night conversations. The first time she saw her tummy was rounding. Joseph’s face when he saw her. The way she felt when he believed. The whispers of neighbors, the doubts of her parents. The first time she felt the baby move inside her. The dread of the long trip. The reality of being full-term, bouncing on the back of a beast. The first pain. The fear of having no place to birth a child. The horror of the nursery. The way it looked. The way it smelled. …The following is my response to her worthy example.”

Except, that in reading the things Moore believes Mary was pondering, you would never know Mary was bearing the Son of God.

Here is the same verse with a mature preacher of the word also speculating on what Mary was pondering. Please compare.

It [verse 19] takes us into the heart of Mary. It says, “But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” This is just mulling them over, contemplating them deeply. She went much deeper, believe me, than the amazed people in verse 18. I mean, this is just…this is just beyond comprehension. Here is a 13- or 14-year old girl, she’s looking into a feed trough and she’s seeing there a baby that’s come out of her womb. She’s never known a man. This baby was conceived and born without ever knowing a man. This baby is the Son of the Most High God. This baby is the rightful heir to the throne of David. This baby is the Savior of the world. This baby is the anointed Messiah. This baby is God, the Lord.

I mean, it’s all so mind-boggling in the common world of human beings. Mary must have wondered, you know, when is He going to start saying profound, theological things? Tomorrow? Is He going to do miracles? What’s going to happen here? What am I to expect out of this child? Will I have a normal relationship with this child that a mother has to a baby? Will I nurse this child as mothers do? Will I raise this child as mothers do? What will this child be like? And when will He enter into His glory? When will He take His Kingdom? When will that all happen? And how am I going to be a mother to a child that is God? She must have wondered all those kinds of things. Must have wondered even about discipline, setting an example. How do you set an example for God? I mean, anything that would come into a mother’s mind must have come into her mind. She just pondered it. She just thought deeply about it. And she thought deeply about God’s redemptive purpose and how God had promised a Savior and a Savior had finally come.” (source)

Moore instills self-ponderings in Mary. They are self-focused. Dr MacArthur’s are Jesus-centered. So if Moore is following “Mary’s worthy example” as she stated the purpose of the book to be, you see the focus of the book is off-kilter already.

~Michael~

In Things Pondered, Moore says she and her husband wanted a son but several years passed and they assumed they were not going to receive one. Then on February 14, 1990 the Lord answered their prayer and her husband “gave the gift of a boy” for Valentine’s Day.

In her 2005 memoir, Feathers from My Nest, Moore said her husband saw “urgent needs of a certain little boy that “could really use a home.” … We were oblivious, I had nothing but romance in my eyes. Happily ever afters. Utter certainty that love will conquer all.

I searched for clarity in the book and got none. On one page Moore said Michael was “orphaned”, on the next she said that his birth parents “gave up on each other and on him”, and that the “marriage of his second guardians collapsed”. After 7 years, Moore says the mother (Anne) “resurfaced,” even though she was “a close family member“, “strongly desiring” her son back. However, there was no mention of any legal proceeding nor any custody battle, even though she consistently said in the book that they had adopted him. Chapter 3 is called “The Adoption.” On page 54 Moore said she sat in a restaurant with Anne and after assurances that this was what Anne wanted, Moore said that Anne “granted him to us.”

Moore says his birth mother was “a close relative” named Anne. No other details, but later in the book Moore said that “I didn’t love him like an aunt… I loved him like a mother.” Perhaps the boy is her sister’s son.

Very early on Moore says the family saw the emergence of Michael’s angry behavior. She said she “envisioned the adoption to be a glorious romance” but was instead the family became increasingly traumatized by his “fits of violence and anger”. There were many school disciplinary hearings, and many nights Moore and her husband were at a loss on how to deal with him. In his 4 short years prior to being adopted by the Moores, she wrote he was continuously abandoned, abused, neglected, and had Child Protective Services intervening on a rotating basis. When Michael entered the Moore home at age 4, it wasn’t long before they knew they had a long haul on their hands. Fear of abandonment again raised its head while during the day he refused to cry, laugh, or love. Yet at night he insisted on falling asleep by holding Moore’s head and chanting “Mommy please don’t leave me.” Finally Moore said they were “stretched to the point of ripping”.

Screen shot from “Things Pondered” by Beth Moore

It’s more than unsettling to see a woman who had committed to adopt a boy but then lay down conditions for his continued residence, which if not adhered to would result in giving him back. More unsettling still is that Moore set the condition very early on in Michael’s tenure. Most unsettling to me is the way she phrased it- “he refuses to be helped,” putting the onus onto the boy.

Here is a similar real-life case from a couple of months ago. Please compare.

“Ohio Couple, Give Back Adopted Son After 9 Years “
An Ohio couple who authorities say returned their 9-year-old adopted son to the county after raising him since infancy have been charged with abandoning the child…the parents said the boy has aggressive behaviors and would not agree to get help….County Prosecutor Michael Gmoser said Thursday that he doesn’t usually seek indictments in misdemeanor cases but views this as “reckless” abandonment. “When you are the parent and you recklessly abandon a child or children, there are criminal consequences,” Gmoser said. “These children don’t have a return-to-sender stamp emblazoned on their forehead.” … “If your 9-year-old needs help, you get him help,” Olivas told the newspaper. “It is not a question of a 9-year-old wanting it or not.

In the book, Moore explains in the next scene that her husband convinced her to let Michael stay. A short while later Moore was complaining in her book again. She said Michael “needed more than they had.” She asked “Why hadn’t God given him to parents who really knew what they were doing? Who didn’t have such demanding lives already? Who didn’t have other children?

They decided to stick with it and just and love him. They kept him for 7 additional years and his behavior slowly but inconstantly improved. Cut to years later-

Screen shot from “Things Pondered” by Beth Moore

It is hard to gain a settled clarity as to the what the author is saying, when one reads a sentence that says they knew they needed to find someone else, not them, to help Michael, and in the next sentence that “to their shock and utter dismay, God confirmed” that Michael needed to go.

If you add up the timing, when Moore says Michael’s alarming behaviors surfaced he was approaching pre-adolescence. If he was “granted” to the Moores at age 4 and they returned him 7 years later at age 11, then the approaching preadolescence must mean age 10. He was at most 10 when he evidenced behaviors that alarmed them.

She wrote this book ten years ago, but Moore refuses to add to the narrative or be any more open than she already has been. Though Moore has famously been open and clear about other situations in her life that are equally as emotionally difficult to discuss, such as her self-esteem issues, her sexual molestation and her hysterectomy, Moore adamantly refuses to discuss with any clarity or detail about the Michael issue. In her book published a year later titled Feathers from My Nest, Moore said the adoption engendered “complexities of circumstance and emotions like nothing I have ever known” (unlike sexual molestation?) and that she is “fiercely and unapologetically private about it” but she “could not possibly write about my children without writing about all my children…even one who was only “mine for a season.

So there is another internal inconsistency that fails to clarify the situation and instead muddies it further. ‘I’m private about Michael but I could not possibly NOT write about him.’

Other statements in Things Pondered don’t add up. For example, was Michael orphaned as stated on page 27? Or abandoned as stated on page 35 and 41? Did the mother “strongly desire” her child returned, or did she demand “custody”? Was it a legal “adoption” as stated on page 29 or private matter of a family temporarily taking in one of their own as described on page 54?

Moore’s whole book, and subsequent responses to inquiries about him could be reduced to an easy one paragraph with clear language and Christian transparency: “My sister Anne couldn’t handle being a mother so I agreed to raise her son as my own. Seven years later Anne got her life together and wanted Michael back. With a mixture of sadness and relief, we gave him up. To this day we still aren’t sure if it was the right decision.”

See how easy it is to be transparent and clear?

How did it all turn out? Moore said Michael is now a tattoo artist covered in tattoos and that she is very, very proud of him.

Moore’s penchant to be overly dramatic in her live studies carries over to Things Pondered. Kim at Upward Call blog said this of Moore and I agree,

My personal reaction to Moore may not be the same as others. She is overly emotional and dramatic. I find that tedious. I don’t want tear-jerking stories. I want the Word of God. I don’t want forced allegorizations; I want to know God more. Her style, I’m told, is quite dynamic. I listened to a few of her broadcasts. I don’t care for her “dynamic” style. I am immediately on guard with speakers who rely on their dynamism. Let’s say Moore goes through a personal trial and she loses her edge. Let’s say she becomes rather mild and sedate. What will she be relying on then?

One of the best speakers I have ever heard is S. Lewis Johnson. He spoke with such a calm, quiet, authoritative tone and manner. I learn so much from him. A bible study should NOT rest on the strength of the speaker; it ought to rest with the strength of how God’s Word is presented and explained. When we rely on style alone, it becomes a matter of taking the Scripture and adjusting it to make us look more dynamic.

The same is true of Things Pondered. From the opening explanation I was disappointed. Moore’s perspective of Mary’s ponderings unfortunately showed the shallowness and earthliness of Moore’s own ponderings. Her hyper-drama, the soaring language of forced dynamism, the promise of transparency but ultimately the muddiness of the issue of her son, I was hoping to learn more about the adoption issue and like all of Beth Moore’s material, simply came away with less understanding and more questions.

In conclusion, the book is not something I enjoyed. Moore’s foundational perspective I’d described, being from herself about herself, to herself, is circular. It ultimately excludes Jesus. And if you don’t believe Moore is not Jesus-focused, a simple look at the numbers will tell you. In Things Pondered, she mentions Jesus 8 times. She mentions God 117. My recommendation is to ponder no further and read a better memoir.

Tim Challies reviewed and recommends the following books for women:

Glimpses of Grace by Gloria Furman
The big question Furman explores is simply this: How does the gospel change the way a woman lives out her calling as a homemaker?

Fierce Women by Kimberly Wagner. Wagner’s concern is for women to embrace their “fierce” qualities and to use them for God’s glory instead of for destructive ends.

Desperate by Sally Clarkson & Sarah Mae – This one is written especially for the mother of young children.

Women’s Ministry in the Local Church by Ligon Duncan, Susan Hunt – Duncan and Hunt focus specifically on the unique opportunities women have to serve in the life of the local church.

One popular book for women [Challies] does not recommend is Created To Be His Help Meet by Debi Pearl.

Challies recommends you get to know these women (biographies):

Lady Jane Grey by Faith Cook. Here is the short, tragic life of Lady Jane Grey.

John & Betty Stam by Vance Christie. Christian martyrs who sparked a great resurgence of missionary fervor.