Whose Story Is Adoption?

Most of the time when I read a theological article with which I disagree, I assume that I am in error and need to be corrected.  After further reflection, I often realize the author was more nuanced than I had originally suspected. So, I end up rethinking my own position in light of Scripture and reconciling the inward tension between my own beliefs and those espoused by the writer I happen to be reading at the time.

After reading “Not Your Story to Tell: A Gentle Plea to Parents Who Have Adopted,” I felt uneasy. I felt like the actors and Adoption Story to Tellactresses must have felt in The Truman Show, a movie whose premise was to prop up a false version of reality for the entertainment value it provided the audience. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that Megan Hill’s article from the Her.meneutics Blog  was intentionally misleading anyone. I don’t think that is the case, and I certainly don’t believe the article was written for mere entertainment value. It was obviously meant to be a sincere plea for discretion by parents who have adopted children. To the extent that prudence and love are the aim of the article, I heartily agree.

Nonetheless, I personally felt uneasy after reading the article. I felt that I could not approve of the vision of adoption it presented. It was emphatically endorsed on Justin Taylor’s almost always reliable blog. So—because I am a parent who has twice adopted—I expected to be challenged and informed. Instead, I felt berated and diminished by this article which assumed (but never proved) that my children exist in a self-contained story- bubble to which I apparently have no right of access.

The basic thrust of Hill’s article is that “adoptive parents are increasingly, permanently, and publicly telling stories that are not theirs to tell.”  Hill has in view the blogs and Facebook updates which include details about a child’s past.  Hill rightly notes,

…my child is not simply my possession or an extension of myself. He is a human being, made in the image of God, with a soul that will never die. And his story does not belong to me.

But Hill seems to take the last line a bit too far. Since when does my child’s story not belong at least partially to me? How can one so neatly compartmentalize my story from my child’s story? Where exactly is the dividing line between my son’s life, my daughter’s life, and my life? It seems to me that these lives are inextricably linked. And when people ask me about any of my 7 children (5 biological and 2 adopted), I see no reason why I ought to accuse them of “nosiness” and act as though they are violating a sacred tale. I tell background stories on all 7 of my children, and I hope my telling of those stories is not for vain purposes (as Hill asserts).  No doubt, there is some degree of pride in the stories, but, hopefully, God will continue to purge this pride from my heart so my story-telling really is redemptive.

Hill argues for keeping an adopted child’s story secret until the child can decide for himself or herself what he or she desires to be known. I think I disagree with such a closed-minded, self-encapsulated view of a human life. The Apostle Paul tells Christians, “You are not your own. You have been bought with a price,” indicating that individuals exist in unity in the body of Christ. Thus, your actions inherently impact others.  No one is an island.

Likewise, our stories are not exactly our own possessions either—at least not exclusively so. While I agree with Hill that we owe our own children basic, Christian love and, thus, must respect their stories, I also believe—and perhaps more importantly know—that their stories are not their own.  They belong ultimately to God.  Any way that I can see redemption in their stories, I am not only free to share those hope-filled flashes of insights with others, but I am actually obligated to share openly where I see God’s hand at work.  This is a thoroughly biblical notion—that parents and others ought to help children see the redemptive hand of God at work in their lives. How else can we be sure our children will understand themselves in relation to redemption?

All through the Bible, the stories of children and babies are told—seemingly without their consent. Details are shared from Moses’s abandonment by his parents (and God’s subsequent redemption of him). How about the origins of Isaac? Why was he even named Isaac? Was telling his story a violation of his right to privacy? What about Jacob and Esau? Were their stories only shared after they gave their consent?

In the New Testament, the child of Elizabeth leaped in the womb when he heard that Elizabeth’s cousin, Mary, also had a child in her womb.  Should Mary and Elizabeth have kept this detail private until John the Baptist and Jesus could decide for themselves what ought to be told?

It seems to me that Megan Hill offers a good caution to parents that they must be discrete. Yet, her overall assumption paints the picture too narrowly and proves to be unfeasible in the end. If her instincts are correct, then the entire book of Ruth is misplaced.  The climax of the book is Naomi caring for the child Obed, who became the progenitor of Jessie and, of course, King David.  The content of the book is a re-telling of the unlikely providence which led to Ruth giving birth to a son fathered by Boaz, her kinsman redeemer. As with other significant figures (including Christ Himself), the child Obed had some questionable occurrences intermingled with an otherwise divinely-directed lineage. Ruth herself was a Moabitess, which, of course, meant that her family line harkened back to an incestuous encounter Lot had with his daughters.

The truth is, no one’s story is perfect. The difference between an adopted child’s background and a biological child’s background is not that one contains fantastic and dramatic themes which arouse emotions, while the other is squeaky clean.  The difference is designed by God only to illustrate how great is His redemptive power to move heaven and earth in order to accomplish His divine will and highlight His great love toward His children.

It seems to me that neighbor love actually demands that we—the parents—shape the redemptive narrative for our children—whether they are adopted or biological. What matters is that they see how God has brought them into a home where the peace of Christ rules, a home in which redemption is both understood and unashamedly on display.

I think a more helpful way to get the point across would have been for Hill to help parents know how to tell stories in a redemptive way, rather than in a way which highlights only the “juicy” details. Adopting parents have a story to tell, too. And their stories invariably involve the children they adopt. Acting as though the child has an adoption story apart from his parents is to deny the full, redemptive glory of adoption. In other words, to frame the issue as though the story belongs either to the child or to the parents misses the real point that our stories are not our own. They belong to God. Therefore, glorify God with your stories.

Is There Hope for Russian Adoptions? Tears and Heaven

Original flavor Sun Chips in the bag

Original flavor Sun Chips (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On December 28, 2012, Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a life-wrecking edict to stop Russian adoptions. The story below is my attempt to capture the agony and offer some hope.

A bag of Sun Chips broke my heart. I saw the half-empty bag with its twisted, crumpled top dangling gingerly over the side of the white countertop. The bag was unmistakably Misiker’s. It had been held tightly in his little brown fists all evening long.

Misiker is my (now) three year-old son, who came to live with us in Kentucky last March. The Sun Chips episode occurred in his native land of Ethiopia. I share the story because it offers a hint of the agony now endured by 46 adopting parents in the former Soviet Union.

The Sun Chips broke my heart because of what they symbolized: A baby boy trying to hold what tiny bit of life he could in his little two year-old fingers.  My wife and I officially adopted Misiker and his younger brother Jack last December in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. However, because of the quirky immigration policies of the USA, we had to leave Misiker and Jack in Ethiopia and return home to Kentucky, even though Ethiopia had awarded them to us as our children.

We bonded with the boys. Misiker stayed with us throughout the day. He was always busy running around the orphanage compound, playing with the other children, kicking a ball, and talking with anyone who might listen; yet he kept an eye on his mom and dad. He played, but checked to see that we were watching. And we were, until the night arrived for our departure.

When I handed Misiker over to the nanny so she could take him to bed (while the driver took us to the airport), the little boy’s eyes looked scared. His countenance was confused.  His nose crumpled upward, while his smile broke uncontrollably downward, muffling his tearful cries just enough to make them more unbearable for his mom and dad. We had to let him go, but neither he nor we really understood why. Through tears, we prayed, then went back to our room to gather our bags.

In the room, I completely fell to pieces, feeling very much like someone had drilled a hole in my stomach and was slowly pulling out my intestines at a tortuously slow pace—delightfully increasing my agonizing cries. When I thought I could not cry any more tears, I gathered our bags and walked down the stairs. When I turned the corner, I saw the Sun Chips bag his little hands had held.

This two year-old baby owned nothing in this world. Everything from his underwear to his pink slippers was borrowed from the community basket. All he had in this world that he could call his own was a single bag of Sun Chips, and there they sat on the edge of a counter awaiting his return.  Would he remember them in the morning? More importantly, would he remember me in the morning? I would likely be flying over the Atlantic when he awoke in the morning. Would he remember? Would I ever see my little boy again? When would he finally have a mommy and a daddy he could not lose?

From December to March, my life was agony. My wife and I prayed for our boys often, but longed for them even more. We finally were able to bring them home, but I doubt I will ever forget the horror of having to let them go.

I have experienced a small shadow of the pain now clouding the lives of the 46 parents who were in Russia to get their own little boys and little girls, only to be told by a hateful, political edict: You can’t have them!  May God have mercy on these parents and their babies.

For me, the greatest comfort was the thought of Christ’s return.  If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am,there you may be also.” (John 14:3). As I was leaving to prepare a better life for my little boy, I was also imitating the Lord Jesus Himself, who is returning for us.  Our time on this earth as believers is time spent just like the orphan who is waiting for all to be made right at his father’s return. Christ is returning for us. He will receive us to Himself and take us to our heavenly Father forever to dwell in perfect righteousness where there will no longer be a need for tears.

Adoption Yearning

Any pastor worth his salt (as the saying goes) must, at times, identify with the prophet Ezekiel. Ezekiel was more than a preacher to God’s suffering people—he was a vicarious enactment of their plight, having to lay siege against Jerusalem (Chapter 4); eat “unclean” food; pack his bags for exile (Chapter 12), and lose his wife.  Ezekiel suffered with God’s people.  God told him from the beginning not only that he would be required to suffer with God’s people but that he would also need a head as hard as theirs in order to bear the suffering without seeing much of a reward.  The people would mock him, scoff him, listen to him for the entertainment value, but not obey what he taught them.  Ezekiel’s ministry was difficult indeed.

Pastors understand. Frequently suffering with God’s people, pastors surely understand what it is like to plead with folks to yield their full allegiance to a sovereign God—only to have those folks too often walk away toward a secular solution to a genuinely spiritual problem.  That can be a tough assignment.

Lately, however, I have suffered an assignment that might be more difficult—suffering with God’s people who suffer well.  OK, it isn’t more difficult. But pain is painful even when it is beautiful.  Lately, I have experienced a kind of sweet agony as I have suffered with a people who portray the brightest ray of beauty from the clouds of pain.

For several weeks now, I have been preaching a series of sermons from Hebrews 12 on the discipline of the Lord.  Basically, I have called us to trust God’s instructing love through suffering.  God’s instructing love is His discipline.  After first rejecting the suffering, we can be trained by God’s instructing love to learn something of the nature of God and thereby be humbled into what the Bible calls the peaceful fruit of righteousness (Hebrews 12:11).  The process must be something like the joy of a mother holding a new baby girl after suffering hours of labor.

So, here we are as a congregation suffering. Here I am as a pastor suffering.  I am suffering with the weight of what I am preaching, knowing that in the congregation are mothers who have lost their daughters, fathers who have buried their babies, and a young man whose wedding party was crashed in the most inconceivably bad manner he could imagine.

I am also suffering my own setbacks, which on an agony scale don’t measure up to the loss of those who have buried children.  Still, I am suffering a degree of agony, longing to know why I have 2 children in Africa who are being needlessly withheld from their home, their family, and their father who desperately wants them in his presence.  How can I (a pastor) make sense of it all?  I am so frustrated with the injustice of a bureaucracy which keeps my boys away from me.

I have some options available.  My natural response is to fuel a deep-seated cynicism against my own government.  Trust me when I say my Republican roots run deep!  It would be easy to grow powerfully indignant against the current administration and buy into the fervor of adoption activism—which isn’t necessarily a bad thing! But that isn’t my thing, not right now.  For now, I am a shepherd of a suffering people who are listening and learning (by watching?) about God’s discipline.

I must receive the Lord’s discipline.  So, what can I learn from my suffering, Lord? Surely, no good can come from the forces pulling my little boys from me and holding us an ocean apart against our wills.  What is this situation saying about you, Father?

Perhaps you, Lord, are painting a picture of the church through my life (and the life of my boys).  I am thinking of unexpectedly sober picture of the church presented in Revelation 6:9-11,

9 When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; 10 and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” 11 And there was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed also.

Here with the Lord are those who have run their race as faithful Christian soldiers. They have died as faithful witnesses, martyrs.  Their concern is for justice—understandably so! They not only were killed unjustly on account of loving Christ, they are also now subjected to seeing others mistreated and even killed in the same unjust way.  Like Abel’s, their blood cries out.

But what is God’s reply to them? It is wait. But it isn’t a simple wait to which God is calling His people.  It is a specific wait.  It is a redemptive wait.  While the martyred saints are crying out for God’s justice, God is saying wait for my full mercy.  They cry for justice because God’s mercy is taking too long.

What this means is that God is certainly as aware as they are of the injustices against His people.  Heck, He is infinitely more aware of injustice than they could ever be!  The reason He does not act in the face of such injustice is that He is more focused for now on accomplishing the fullness of redemption.  “Be patient,” he tells His faithful.  “I have more aliens and strangers yet to adopt into our family.  As time welcomes them into history, I will be dispatching the Holy Spirit to give them eternity.  In the meantime, while that is taking place for my children, other injustices will occur. Don’t worry. I am keeping track and will repay. Vengeance is mine.  For now, trust me while I work through time to complete our family.”

We want justice while God is working redemption.  To say it another way, the only reason God delays justice is so He can fully express His mercy toward His people.  A God like that is worthy of our trust and our patient endurance.

So, I wait for my baby boys.  And I wait for the further redemption of Crystal’s death and Tommy’s loss. 

Adoptions Down

The 2011 adoption statistics were just released, and they showed that adoptions are down in the U.S.  Indeed, adoptions were down a significant 15% from the 2010 numbers, and down a mind-boggling 60% from the peak numbers of 2004.  One must go back nearly two decades (1994) to find a year in which there were fewer adoptions than there were this past year.

What is going on?

Apparently, government interference is going on.  I’m not an anarchist. I’m not an anti-government libertarian.  I’m not even an “occupier.”  I am a parent who is caught up in the process of adopting 2 orphan boys from Ethiopia.  In 2010, Ethiopia completed 2,513 adoptions to parents in the U.S.  Last year, the number dropped to 1,727—which means 786 fewer orphans were brought into a forever family.  The reason for this is not that Ethiopia has fewer orphans needing to be adopted: There are still more than 4 million orphans awaiting adoption.  The reason for the decline is government intervention.

Of course, the government was compelled to intervene after dozens of serious irregularities were uncovered in Guatemala back in 2007.  The nadir of the Guatemalan adoption program came when 6 year-old Anyelí Liseth Hernández Rodríguez was adopted legally by a Missouri family who were told that she was an orphan. In truth, Anyelí was kidnapped from her home in Guatemala and sold as an orphan through the criminal actions of an adoption attorney and an agency worker in Guatemala.  The attorney and the agency worker have been found guilty of kidnapping and sentenced to 21 and 16-year prison terms respectively.  They have also been forced to pay heavy fines to the mother of the child.

The Guatemalan kidnapping sent shockwaves which have reverberated throughout the sea-bed of the inter-country adoption ocean, causing a literal tsunami of regulations to flood out orphanages from Ethiopia to Manila.  As regulations increased, adoptions decreased.

Everyone appears to understand the dynamic, but who is prepared to correct it?

No one condones kidnapping and child-trafficking (at least no one with a moral compass).  Obviously, little Anyelí is caught between two families who each appear to love her and call her their own, though she can only be with one of them—and not the other.  Her case has hamstrung the will of many adoption proponents who are now forced to ask whether it is worth it if even one case comes to separate a child from her parents. No doubt, any parent would answer in the negative if it were her child who was kidnapped.

Still, as tragic as Anyelí’s case is, it is but one—one case in more than 100,000. In fact, even though Guatemala’s adoptions have been shut down because of numerous infractions (such as forged birth certificates and falsified papers), the problem cases in Guatemala represented only 3% of the total adoptions which took place in 2007.  This means, of course, that 97% of the adoptions which were completed in that year ended with needy, abandoned children being united with a loving, familial embrace.

To state the matter another way, more than 15,000 orphans in Guatemala have not been available for adoption since 2007.  Instead of being united with families in the U.S. who desire to nurture them, many orphans have been left in orphanages to formulate their own family structure, attaching to workers and children who, no doubt, come and go throughout their lives.

Even more to the point (for it is understandable that extra precautions must be in place in Guatemala), in Ethiopia, adoptions have been cut in half because of increased fears of improprieties in the adoption process, even though no actual improprieties have been discovered.  What this means is that people like me must wade through the slog of paperwork, while patiently enduring a two-year process which winds up costing about $40,000.  Other countries are more difficult than Ethiopia.

Tragically, this means that little orphan boys and little orphan girls are forced to remain alone, abandoned, and, most likely, never adopted into a family.  By some estimates, there are more than 4 million orphans in Ethiopia.  Adopting at the current rate, it would take more than 2,300 years to get current orphans in Ethiopia into an adopting family; and that is operating on the impossible assumption that no further orphans will be added to that number. The task appears impossible.

Efforts of governmental agencies—no matter how well-intentioned—are hurting thousands and thousands of children in need of familial love.  The current downward spiral of inter-country adoptions needs to be reversed.

Chuck Johnson of the National Council for Adoption gets it right in this quote from a USA Today article: “This trend is not right, and it is not good for children.  Given the increasing number of orphaned children worldwide, the continued decline in intercountry adoptions means that children’s most basic needs and rights are being denied.”

May the Lord raise up more advocates to speak up for the little ones who need familial love.


Haiti Orphans

I have linked here a news article concerning the fate of an untold number of orphans in Haiti.  I am not sure what the final result will be, but the story speaks of children being brought in to the hospitals with no names, no record of families, and no place else to go.  I would be more than glad to take a child.  If anyone finds out how to arrange such an adoption, speak up.

I Could

According to this story, Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners, in conjunction with a few Democrat lawmakers, is proposing Christian support for a new bill ostensibly designed to reduce the number of abortions. 

“Helping young people to delay sexual activity, preventing the pregnancies that people don’t want, economically supporting low-income women to give them real choice about having a child, and encouraging adoption all will reduce abortion in America; and who could be against any of that?” the progressive Christian leader [Wallis] added.

The answer is, “I could.”  I could very easily see opposing such a piece of legislation and being against some of the provisions in this proposal.  First, I would most likely be in favor of the first provision–delaying sexual activity–if that means delaying until monogamous, heterosexual marriage.  If that is not what the provision intends, then I might could say I am against it.

Second, I could definitely be against “preventing unwanted pregnancies” if that means, as it did under the last democrat President, passing out condoms in schools.  That will not prevent unwanted pregnancies; it will rather encourage more of them.  Indeed, the category of “unwanted pregnancy” is pernicious at best.  I suspect this provision is actually a full-scale “birth control” program which might include RU 486 but probably does not emphasize abstinence.

Third, I could easily oppose some plans of economically supporting low-income women to give them the choice of having a child.  I certainly could not oppose helping needy women or men.  However, welfare programs that do not encourage work or responsibility tend only to hurt women and destroy families.  So, on this provision, I could oppose such legislation if it encourages and rewards promiscuity while dimishing responsibility.  I’m not sure what a “real choice” about having a child means.

Finally, when it comes to adoption, I am completely on board.  I do think adoption is a much better choice than abortion.  I agree that adoption should not be opposed.  Though I could possibly oppose three out of these four provisions, I would support fully the last one.  So, the bill is clearly only one-fourth of a pro-life bill.

Thumbs Up! I really like this

Check out this article concerning Steven Curtis Chapman and the ministry God has given him and his wife.  I really like the fact that this ministry is in a poor and needy area of China.  Read the article and see what you think.