“If Mommy gets a baby in her belly, will you send me back?” she asked him, with nervous eyes searching the floor, inhaling the shame of those words as if they were her indictment.
It’s often near the surface for this one — not the year she was “chosen” and a mommy and daddy flew all the way across the ocean to look her in the eyes and call her daughter — but the too-many, earlier years that still seem to weigh heavier. These days, she lives buoyant and giddy. Her eyes have found a sparkle and we see them more than we see those hands that spent nearly a year awkwardly covering them. My little girl laughs. A lot. And this week when I hugged her I could tell her body wanted to melt (not stiffen) in my arms.
But just within her reach is the shame she feels about her life on the other side, when her given last name tied her to no one. One phrase or question or hint of her past and I watch those eyes, which just harnessed a sparkle, go dark.
Adoption saved her and it haunts her, because of its open-ended definition to her. It’s still a question.
She, like many of the rest of us, has yet to reconcile the power of this one act.
I hadn’t even kissed their foreheads or tickled their feet and this stranger’s words about them stung.
“Oh, you’re adopting? Just you wait. Once you have them at home I’m sure you’ll be able to have children of your own.”
A phrase I’ve heard a hundred times, and it never ceases to give my heart pause. Children of your own, words that expose a subconscious understanding of adoption as charitable affection versus primal love. As if these, once-adopted ones, were somehow, not truly … mine.
There is a distinction in our language about those children, once adopted, and their biological counterparts that reveals much more about the state of our hearts — the state of my heart — than it does about the children to whom it’s referring.
That simple phrase, often spoken by beautifully-intentioned people**, reveals the shame under which my daughter sometimes lives. But she’s not alone, she just lives an outward existence that represents the battle each one of us fights in our understanding of Him.
It is inherent to human flesh. We are interlopers, or so we think, hanging on to the coattails of another person’s inheritance. Certainly we’re not “one of His own”, we hold deep-down; instead we grasp at something we believe will never really name us. We are simply recipients of His charitable affections, we subconsciously reason.
Our language about physical adoption reveals the gaps in our understanding about how He has adopted us. And those words that sting when I hear them make me hurt more than just for my children, but for the representation of His name.
Most can’t imagine a love beyond what we see in the natural as the most intense form of love — the kind birthed when a mother’s body breaks open to give life to one that shared her flesh and her breath. How could it be that a mother could not only love, but see as her own, a child that her womb did not form and who wears another mama’s skin? We see the struggle of attaching, mother to child and child to mother, that so often happens in adoption, and it only reinforces our subconscious belief that true love between mother and child is only inherited through blood … and not won.
When her eyes fill with the shame of her history and her heart begins to clamp behind them and adoption is still her question — am I truly “in” or just posing – I see me. I see a hundred weak yes’s as just plain weak and all the things I’ve declared with my mouth that my body never fulfilled and the times I poured out prayers to Him only to forget Him, the real source of my strength, hours later.
I see a never-ending list of failures.
I live, subtly, as if I am on the outside of that fence. Just like her.
All things that could be wiped away in an instant if I understood the power of His having adopted me. This reality changes everything.
I am a child of His own, this God-Man who wrapped His holiness around my sin-stained existence and renamed me.
I am one who is marked by His name more than any of my failures.
A child who knows that adoption isn’t really about the past that haunts her, the forever stamp of separate, not included, but instead the name of the King who fought, hard for her — she wears a love that is fierce.
She’s a force with which to be reckoned, this wildly-loved former-orphan.
So when I hear that phrase “a child of your own” separating the children under my roof from the one my womb will bear, and my heart saddens at the misunderstanding of this wild-love that’s been birthed within my home* among children who wear another mama’s skin, I can’t help but think of Him.
He calls me “His own” when the world and my heart wants to label me forever severed.
Adoption is His great declaration.
*For the mama who has children “of her own” wearing different skin: This love we birthed, when we signed countless papers and spent sleepless nights waiting and fell in love with a picture or a name before we heard a heartbeat, is other but still very much His. To love them fiercely, like blood, requires an unnatural impartation of His love, in and through us. It’s not normal, but it is fully possible. In Him.
If you’re wrestling under the weight of the “not yet” that you feel towards them or the “not yet” that they demonstrate towards you, don’t shrink back. This gap is merely His opportunity to move. Now, more than ever, it’s your time to pray and to ask and to hope for Him to bind your family with a beautiful love that can only point back to His name.
**For those looking for a new term: There is grace to learn, and learn now. If you are like me, you have likely been one who learns what not to say by saying it several times the wrong way . You are in good company.
The term we and many other adoptive families prefer to use to distinguish a child born into a family versus one adopted into a family is “biological child”. We, personally, prefer not to refer to our children as “adopted children” as we see adoption as having been a one-time event. We just call them our children. (And this leaves room for all the other adjectives that define them;)). If we need to distinguish, we’ll say “we have four children who were adopted.” But that’s just our personal preference. No need to stumble over your words around us, we’re all learning — there is grace for you to stumble while you learn!
Photos compliments of Mandie Joy (who is currently fostering a baby, stateside! Pop on over to her blog to catch a glimpse of those baby-toes.)
For Your Continued Pursuit (verses on adoption): Ephesians 1:4-6 | Galatians 4:5-7 | 1 John 3:1 (&2) | Romans 9:26 | Romans 8:14-16 | Romans 8:21,23 | Ephesians 2:19 | Romans 9:8 | John 1:13 | Isaiah 43:7 | Psalm 27:10 | Hebrews 12:6 | Revelation 21:7 | Hebrews 2:10 | Ephesians 3:15 | John 11:25 | Psalm 68:5-6 | Psalm 10:14, 17-18
Sara is a wife to Nate and a mother of four (and one on the way) whose birth canal bridged the expanse between the United States and Africa. After almost a decade of Christian life she was introduced to pain and perplexity and, ultimately, intimacy with Jesus. God met her and moved her when life stopped working. And out of the overflow of this perplexity, came her writing.You can read more of her writing at Every Bitter Thing Is Sweet.