If we’re all adopted, does our language affirm and uphold this beautiful truth?
Welcome to Adoption + Foster Week at All Things New. Adoption is a picture of the gospel, and the church should be its foremost champion. November is National Adoption Awareness Month, and National Adoption Day is November 18. More than a dozen families between Summitview and our sister church in Greeley have experienced the incredible journey of adoption or fostering. Many of these families shared their stories with us, and we compiled these stories into a full-length publication, Heirs: A Celebration of Adoption and Foster Care, which will be available on Sunday, November 5 during our worship service. This week, we’ll be publishing excerpts from a handful of the stories that you’ll find in Heirs. We are all adopted, and that’s worth celebrating.
We watched Cheaper by the Dozen for our family movie night recently. It’s hilarious and soul-stirring—a solid family flick. I have seen this movie many, many times, but it was the first time for my kiddos. The Baker clan has 12 kids—close-knit, close in age and delightful in the onscreen mayhem that abounds (Side note: our daughter was so inspired that the next day she pasted the very bitter “anti-nail-biting” polish on her little sister’s toothbrush). Somewhere in the middle is a boy named Mark. He loves amphibians and science, is frequently called the wrong name by his parents and feels like an oddball in comparison to his 11 other siblings. They love him, but in frustration refer to him as “FedEx”— as in, you don’t belong, you were dropped off by the FedEx truck.
Then, a few days ago, my daughter and I were reading The Mother-Daughter Book Club by Heather Vogel Frederick. We encountered stereotypical mean girls who were finding abundant means to knock down the girls around them. As these girls gossiped about a girl who seemed very different than her family, the worst accusation they could muster was that she must be adopted.
I paused after reading through this scene, set the book down and looked at my beautiful girl and asked, “Does that kind of reference bother you?” Her answer: “Yeah, a little bit.” Probably more than a little bit.
She brought up Cheaper by the Dozen also, how it made her feel sad. I reaffirmed how we should think of it, how we view her. Adoption means you have an inheritance. You belong, you are ours, you fit with us.
But I felt sad, too. I know she will hear many variations of this as she grows up. Adoption as a cultural or casual reference is often used in this negative sense, typified by phrases like, “What are you, adopted?” or “I felt like the red-headed step-child.” We all have heard references like this. As a child, teen and young adult, these types of scenes in books, movies or real life might have passed through my mind without much notice. Now, they strike deeper. I have two girls who are adopted. I have many family members, friends and children of friends who are adopted.
As Christians, we need to evaluate our part in the conversation about adoption—the casual comments and the deeper discussions. Our adoption by Christ means we belong. We are not outcasts. We are not misfits. We have a forever forever home. But I’ve (often) heard the following statements from believers:
“Adoption is not worth the risk.”
Not worth it? Yes, adoption is hard and not everyone is called to adopt. And those who do should have realistic and informed expectations of the many unique facets it brings. However, I’ve heard this sentiment most often from believers who had never really considered adoption but have had bad experiences or hear hard stories related to adoption. Their experiences, based often in fear, inform their counsel instead of the gospel.
We should spur people on to faith and hope in Jesus, not in ourselves, not in what seems easy, safe, comfortable or risk-free. Parenting and life in general offer one guarantee—the steady and abiding love and presence of Jesus. I know he thought I was worth it.
“You don’t know what you are going to get.”
I’m sure I am going to get a sinner—I’m sure that I am going to get a child who needs Jesus, who is known fully by Jesus. That being said, part of walking into adoption is embracing and accepting the unknown. In many foster-to-adopt situations, kids have experienced loss, abandonment and trauma, recipients of their birth parents’ choices which can include drugs and abuse. Adoptive parents are not in control of choices made during their child’s pregnancy or as they began life. There are blank pages.
But when I hear people share this thought, it sometimes goes deeper than prudent wisdom. It betrays an assumption that knowing assures success, that knowing as much as possible about lineage and medical history will somehow impact the outcome. I don’t want to look at a child born of my womb and a child born of my heart and have an underlying assumption that one will be better off than the other.
I am sure of this—God is big enough for every member of my family with all of our yuck. Our God does not reserve the right to only bless children who are “lucky” enough to have pristine stories.
“[Insert name] is having a really hard time/is a bully/is acting out. I don’t know if it because they are adopted or what.”
When a child, who happens to be adopted, struggles, I’ve heard countless statements that essentially name adoption as the first root of the problem. I know that adoption comes with unique struggles with a wide range of pain and loss in the mix. I am simply saying that often adoption is the first thing that gets thrown under the bus. We are a sum of so many moving parts, but the greatest part of all is God reaching down into our brokenness no matter what our story or background.
Out of the overflow of our heart we speak and act (Luke 6:45). So, how do our words and thoughts reveal what we really think about adoption? How do those words affect how others around us view adoption? If we can’t champion adoption in our speech, how do we champion it in action? How can we encourage others to step into this holy adventure if we really believe that it’s a second-hand choice and not worth the risk? What do our words and actions reveal about what we think about adoption? Who do we think God is?
I have had to wrestle with these questions, too. But we of all people should champion adoption with a thankfulness for our own adoption through Christ. We ought to be demonstrating this belief by championing God’s work of redemption, not slighting it in derogatory fashion.
Were I asked to focus the New Testament message in three words, my proposal would be “Adoption through propitiation,” and I do not expect ever to meet a richer or more pregnant summary of the gospel than that. (J.I. Packer)
My challenge to those reading this, my request, is to simply ask God to help you see and soak in the splendor of our own adoption in Christ.
Sometimes I pull out my kids’ birth certificates. Like all birth certificates, they list birthdate and birthplace details and birthdates and birthplaces of the parents. This is not why I look at them; I look to see the names of the parents—my husband and I. No asterisks, no qualifications, no caveats, just our names and their names. They belong to us. Their inheritance, physical and spiritual, is with us, all given equal share in our resources, provision and protection.
As my daughter profoundly said to me, “This was God’s rescue plan for me.”
And it was my rescue plan, too.
Grab a copy of Heirs: A Celebration of Adoption and Foster Care on Sunday, November 5 to celebrate the adoption and foster care stories in Summitview.