Adoption was not God’s Plan for me.

by , on
2021-03-29

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

Romans 12:2

I am a Christian. I’m an adoptee. I don’t believe adoption was God’s plan for me. Yes, I have had a great life in many ways. I do believe my adoptive family was loving. So how is it that adoption wouldn’t have been God’s plan for me?

At this point, the “pattern of this world” (aka the dominant cultural view) is to see adoption as a win-win-win situation and, if you’re Christian, to see it as part of God’s will and God’s purpose in your life. Even though adoptees have long been speaking up against the inaccuracy and danger of this perspective, this theology of adoption persists. And it’s still hurting adoptees and our families.

Christians, we need to “renew our minds” on the relationship God has with child adoption. What might that look like? We should think critically about how we talk about God’s will. What is God’s will, really, and what is not God’s will but human choice?

So, what do we believe about God?

Let’s start here. These are a beliefs about God I’ve seen emphasized in (usually white, evangelical) Christian discussions around adoption.

  1. God is all-knowing and all-powerful.
  2. God’s will is “good, pleasing and perfect”; he wants what is best for us.
  3. God’s will is mostly fixed and specific; something we can figure out then do.

So the logic of adoption goes something like this:

  1. Since God knows what will happen and has the power to orchestrate events…
  2. And since God’s will (or what God wants) for us is our good (and His glory)…
  3. And if something specific we thought we should do (i.e. adopt) has good outcomes for us…

…then God must have planned for this (i.e. adoption) to happen all along.

This is the logic of “meant to be” and “God’s plan” with adoption. This is the dominant Christian view of adoption when things seem to have worked out for the adoptive family and the child.

What do we believe about adoption?

On the whole, the Christian view of child adoption is that it gives a child a loving family and prevents them from living a more difficult or less-loved life. I’ve already written a lot about how Christians see a flawed (re: false) parallel between adoption and salvation.

But what about us adoptees? For those of us raised in these Christians homes, it’s a difficult logic to contradict. After all, if I love my adoptive family or love the life I have now…or if I can see God using my adoption story for the healing and wholeness of others…then my adoption must have been God’s plan from the beginning. Right?

The problem is that adoption is a dynamic reality.

The experience of being an adoptee isn’t static. It changes as we grow and learn new information about ourselves and/or our families. So it’s only natural that our view of our adoption and our feelings about it will shift with time. It is natural for adoptees to question and wrestle with the reality of life as an adoptee.

However, the view that our adoption was God’s plan immediately puts the adoptee at odds with the Divine if we dare to question or wrestle. Trying to hold on to the idea that it was God’s plan and yet incorporate our new perspectives can lead to host of confusing ideas:

  1. I was meant to be with THIS family, not THAT one. God intervened.
  2. Even the bad things that led to me being adopted were planned by God.
  3. My pain and loss also must have a God-given purpose and be productive.

Of course these things bring up more questions, like:

  1. Why did God have me born to the wrong family just to experience separation trauma?
  2. Why would God plan the (poverty or coercion or rape) so that I’d be relinquished?
  3. I can’t seem to find a purpose in my pain/loss. What is wrong with me?

The Problem of Evil

Does God want families separated to form new, adopted families?
Does God want me to have lifelong struggles with adoption trauma, abandonment or rejection?

Typically, Christians will say, “Of course not…” and then start the mental gymnastics to justify the trauma that makes adoption possible. In other words, they will try to preserve their view of adoption as being God’s plan for everyone (the mom, the child and the adoptive parents).

The answers given tend to fall flat, especially for the adoptee who realizes they cannot pray their pain away.

How could God have wanted me to experience this lifelong trauma?
How could God have been OK with my first family’s suffering and pain?

When we try to validate this view of adoption, we skew our view of God and we fail to support adoptees.

What is God’s will?

What we believe about God shapes what we believe about ourselves and the circumstances we are in. We can believe that God has a good and pleasing will for us and yet God also allows us to make our own choices (freewill) that differ from or conflict with that will. Theologians call it God’s Perfect Will vs God’s Permissive Will.

Perfect will is what God desires; e.g. our salvation and collective restoration.
Permissive will is what God permits; e.g. human choices and consequences.

Adoption is not God’s Perfect Will.

Family separation and adoption is a result of human choices. Here are a few examples of what I mean by that:

  • a mom’s decision to relinquish
  • a grandfather’s decision to force his young daughter to give up her child
  • an orphanage’s choice to adopt out a child even though they had living family
  • a trafficker’s decision to profit off of selling kidnapped children for adoption
  • an adoptive parent’s desire to fill a void in their life by adopting

Often those choices are made within the context of larger, man-made issues, for example:

  • poverty
  • war
  • domestic violence
  • religious extremism
  • social stigma/pressure
  • racist discrimination

The are just a few things that are connected to families being in crisis and children being adopted. They are the result of human choices and actions that are not inline with God’s will or desire for us. Family separation and adoption might be something God allows to happen, i.e. its God’s permissive will. That doesn’t mean God orchestrated adoption.

Even if something good comes from adoption, it is only evidence that God can always create beauty out of brokenness; not that God planned the brokenness or desired it.

We can’t put God’s name on our choices.

Sometimes adoption has positive outcomes for an adoptee; they grow up in a loving home and have access to opportunities they wouldn’t have otherwise.

Sometimes adoption has tragic outcomes for an adoptee; they grow up in an abusive home with less love and support than they would’ve had otherwise.

This is why adoption is not gospel; because if the gospel is not good news to everyone then it is good news to no one.

Just because there are or might be some positive outcomes from our choices doesn’t mean that what we’ve done reflects God’s perfect will. We need to be careful not to put God’s name on OUR choices. This is taking God’s name in vain.

It is true that God is able to take what we meant for evil and use it for good. God can incorporate our hurtful or just unhealthy choices into the timeline without altering the outcome God desires.

Wait, isn’t it the family separation that is bad, not the adoption?
You could argue that adoption IS God’s plan for addressing the hurtful human decisions and conditions that caused family separation. Therefore adoption can still be part of God’s perfect will, right? Well, let’s think about what God’s perfect will is.

God’s Plan for us is Restoration

The Bible shows God carrying out a plan for the restoration of all creation through Christ. God’s perfect will is restoring our relationship with God and with one another and with the earth. It is wrongs being righted, broken things being mended and lies being exposed so that truth can restore us, heal us and make us whole.

Is adoption part of God restoring a family that was in crisis to a healthy and whole place? No.

Adoption actually assumes that the permanent destruction of the family is what’s best for everyone. Adoption leaves the broken circumstances that led to adoption broken. For example, instead of addressing the financial insecurity of a young single mother, adoption takes her child and leaves her more broken than before as she now has to deal with her trauma of child-loss.

God restores families, cultures and nations.

God’s perfect will is that we care for the [orphan + widow] + the poor + the foreigner. Remember the orphan + widow = a child and their mother; because once the father had died a child was considered an orphan.

The Bible has already told us to provide for those slipping through the cracks of our society; the marginalized, the exploited, the forgotten. We should clothe them and feed them, i.e. make sure they have what they need to be healthy and whole. If we did this for families in crisis, their children would not need to be taken or away or relinquished.

God’s perfect will is that we, as his hands and feet, intervene in such a way that families never need be separated to begin with.

-Tiffany henness | calling in the wilderness

God’s will for restoration requires we cultivate a holy imagination and resist fatalistic views of the world. We can only believe adoption is the best option if we first accept that there are some people and situations that God simply cannot or will not restore. So either God is not all-powerful or some people are just “throw away people”. Again, this is skewing our view of God or others to fit the narrative that adoption is God’s plan.

God Didn’t Plan It, But God is Good

I’m a Christian. I’m an adoptee. I don’t believe adoption was God’s plan for me. In my case, adoption was a human attempt to make the best out of a difficult situation. The results are mixed and ultimately, there is a great deal of pain.

That pain is not on purpose.
That pain does not need to have a purpose.

I do not need to put a spiritual spin on that pain to believe God is good or to give God credit for the good things that have happened in my life after being adopted.

God does not rebrand my pain. God does give me Christ, who is able to enter into the pain with me. Christ knows abandonment and rejection and displacement. Christ knows what it is to walk between two identities and different families.

God can also give me purpose in my pain. Not always, but sometimes my healing is bound up in being a participant in the healing of others. Finding that I can have purpose in my pain is not the same as saying that my pain was purposefully created. It is not evidence that adoption was God’s plan for me, but that restoration is and God is able to work toward that no matter what.

What do we lose? What do we gain?

Nothing I said here is new but perhaps it’s the first time you’re hearing it said this way. And no, I don’t believe all adoptions are bad. That’s another overly simplistic and unhelpful view. So don’t focus on that. Focus on this next bit.

If we shift our perspective on God’s role in adoption, we lose our ability to ignore the social inequities and injustices that lead to family separation. We lose our ability to pretend we didn’t know and absolve ourselves from doing something about it. We lose our ability to celebrate someone’s child being available to a another family without asking the disturbing questions about why this keeps happening.

More importantly, if we shift our perspective on God’s role in adoption, we gain the ability to confront and acknowledge the pain and suffering of all broken families. That means we gain the ability to enter into lament and mourn with those who mourn. We cultivate our empathy for our fellow humans, and from that we gain the ability to have real solidarity with the marginalized and forgotten. We gain an opportunity to join in God’s work and support them toward their own restoration, healing and wholeness.

Your loved one is sick. What do you do?

by , on
2021-01-21

It’s been 13 years since I met Virginia and she convinced me to run 26.2 miles. As a cancer survivor and a few years ahead of me in life, she said if she could do it, then I could do it. I couldn’t argue with that. Now, I may have regretted listening to her a time or two during the following months of training. However, the fact that she was even there for that arm-twisting conversation was a medical miracle, and, at least in part, due to the love of her husband, Van.

When Virginia was diagnosed with terminal cancer, Van started researching. Sacrificing sleep to surf the 90’s internet, he was looking for something that might save her life. What a shot in the dark, right? Cancer is a big, scary monster that has bested experts for a long time. What difference would it make for this one man to educate himself on the world of cancer treatments?

The difference was that he found a clinical trial for an experimental drug. They were able to get Virginia into that trial. She became one of the first people to receive an effective dose and 21 years later she’s still alive.

For a couple years, I had the privilege of hearing Van and Virginia tell parts of their story to crowds of marathon runners. As I listened, I imagined Van accompanying Virginia to her medical appointments and sitting with her through treatments. All things that were probably difficult for him to do, yet powered by his love for her.

However, it was that additional effort of self-education and hunting down a miracle that always gave me pause. Even if the miracle drug hadn’t existed, love compelled him to do as much as he could and to refuse to accept things as they were. If you want to hear more about Van and Virginia’s amazing story, I recommend you purchase their book and read it.

Love is Costly

When someone we love gets sick, it might upend everything. Plans and dreams get put on hold or entirely replaced with a new normal; one that might involve becoming “an expert” in the disease or illness that is attacking your loved one.

That makes me think of Jone and Joshua. Jone is my cousin. Joshua is the partner of her son, Randy. Randy also had a terminal diagnosis a few years ago and was in and out of the hospital and, sometimes in and out of consciousness. Jone and Joshua had to advocate for him with surgeons, doctors and nurses for years. And by advocate, I mean stopping them when they were about to do something that would’ve made him worse or even killed him. Time and time again, it was their knowledge about his disease that helped him get through.

When someone we love has a chronic condition, we might have to change the entire family’s diet and/or schedule. I once met a family who got their kids out to ride bikes in the pre-sunrise light because one child, who could not be directly exposed to sunlight, loved to ride. I can’t imagine it was easy to adapt to waking up the entire family while it was still dark on a regular basis.

We might be tempted to say that none of these things are difficult to do when you love someone. We might not even want to talk about how tedious it is to research cancer treatments, or how stressful it is to challenge medical professionals, or how inconvenient it is to reorient our daily life in these situations. At least I tend to jump toward thinking…“well, it is nothing compared to the struggle of the one we love who is sick and in danger.”

There are personal costs we are willing to pay if it means saving the life of or alleviating the pain of someone we love.

What if the disease isn’t physical?

What if the disease attacking your loved one isn’t cancer? What if the source of their pain isn’t something wrong in their cells or even in their psyche? What if they are fighting to survive the societal cancers of racism and white supremacy?

Can you make this jump with me?

If you are not a person of color, but your loved one is, there’s a good chance you don’t automatically understand the disease that threatens them or the pain of the cumulative harm done by racism and white supremacy. There’s a good chance that the social “diet” and routines you’re accustomed to are toxic for your Black child or your brown spouse.

Like Van, does your love compel you to stay up through the night learning and researching, even if there is no miracle cure for racism?

Like Jone or Joshua, are you taking on the responsibility to know what you need to know to be ready to prevent further harm, even if it means challenging a doctor, a teacher, a pastor, a grandparent, a friend?

Are you willing to make changes to your life or get out of your comfort zone in order to create a healthy environment for them?

Even if you are a person of color, but your loved one is a different racial/ethnic minority, there’s a good chance you have some learning and changing to do as well because their distinct experiences of racism and racial trauma might be quite different from yours.

What is love, anyway?

I’ll admit I’m a bit confused these days when someone says they love me. In this past year, there have been plenty of “I love you”s from family, friends, and fellow Christians, who seem content with leaving me (and others) to battle the societal cancer that is racism alone.

“I love you” but I will still pedal anti-Chinese sentiment around this virus. That’s like saying “I love you but I will still smoke around you even though you have lung cancer.”

“I love you” but I don’t want to understand what you’re going through.

“I love you” but not enough learn how to care for or help you through this.

“I love you” but I won’t speak up to others who are harming you.

“I love you” but I won’t sacrifice my comfort to alleviate your pain.

Is that really love, then?

I have greatly appreciated the people who have listened to me or have read what I wrote. However, it seems like many white friends and family see it like a hobby of mine. Like I talk about racism and adoption trauma and how that impacts me because I enjoy it, but it’s totally optional. So they do not have to actually know anything about my little hobby in order to love me.

However, I see things like racism and adoption trauma like a disease I’m fighting, an affliction I struggle against. Somedays the pain is so bad I can’t get out of bed. Somedays I’m feeling really good. Either way, my overall health is greatly impacted by whether or not those closest to me are doing their own learning and willing to make changes.

Just like Van, by himself, did not save Virginia’s life, I don’t expect any one person to be everything I need. Virginia is still with us, not just because of love, but because of years worth of research by specialists and treatment by medical staff, as well as the support of their friends and family.

Still. The kind of love that refuses to accept things as they are and keeps trying, against all odds, can make a huge difference in the outcome. The kind of love that puts effort into understanding someone else’s struggle can learn how to help without furthering harm. That is the kind of love we need.

Christians And….

by , on
2020-06-22

This is a punchy series of graphics designed to highlight hypocritical thinking around Christians and racism. I want to provoke reflection, not create airtight assessments of everything that is amiss in Christian thought.

When it comes to racism and racial justice, there are certain sticking points for white evangelical Christians (in which I was raised) that make it hard for them to engage; namely corporate sin, the systemic nature of racism, and the need for policy change to bring about justice and peace. I’ll just say a few words about each image.

Christians and corporate sin:

Western thought is very individualistic and therefore our theology tends to focus on individual sin and righteousness. When we speak about the generational and corporate sin of racism, the worldview I was raised with wants to deny that I could ever be complicit or need to take responsibility for what my ancestors did or for what other people are doing to my right and left.

However, time and again, white evangelical leaders blame LGBTQ (and/or abortionists or feminists) for natural disasters, acts of nature (typically hurricanes), and terrorists attacks. So, by their own logic, something they perceive to be a sin that some (but not all) individuals are ‘guilty’ of, becomes a corporate sin because most (but not all) people were complicit? Therefore God would hold all people in that area responsible for some LGBTQ people?

The fact that some can swallow this idea easier than they can the idea that racism is a corporate sin is telling, isn’t it?

Christians and social justice:

I titled this one ‘social justice’ because this double standard of thought is one of the primary things that prevents Christians from engaging in social justice. They just don’t believe racism is embedded into our culture or social systems.

Admittedly, systemic racism was a really hard idea for me to wrap my head around at first. Racists were individuals who were bad and no good person would enforce a racist policy or fail to question and change a racist system. Many times, with white Christians, I see an inability to connect the dots; that everything humans do can be infected by our sin and therefore, racism, as a sin, can infect the policies we create to govern ourselves and the system we created to organize our world.

And yet, there is increasing concern and fear among white Christians that they are being persecuted here in America. An example of that thought process might look like this: “While not all government officials hate Christians, many government policies persecute us. Right now, they are trying to keep us from meeting in our churches! They say it’s because of COVID-19 but really it’s because our nation has turned from God.”

Again, I don’t agree with their assessment of the situation, but I see in their reasoning there is a belief that unjust treatment of a group of people can be perpetuated by a system/policy…not just individual people.

Christians and law and order:

Individualism again. Heart change as the only way to eradicate evil in the world. That is…until we’re talking about people wanting to abort their babies.

White Christians get hung up on not wanting to “get political” when it comes to racism and acts of racial violence. Yet they have no issue with getting political over abortion or reproductive rights.

To be sure, abortion isn’t a matter of politics to them but ‘sanctity of life.’

Why can’t they see that racism and racial violence are not a matter of politics either, but…well, sanctity of life!?

This hypocritical thinking stems back to the politicization of abortion by politicians who were pro-segregation and losing their voters. And it’s worked marvelously for generations as many of my peers will vote for a candidate solely because of their pro-life stance, no matter what else that person believes or does or says.

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Better We’ll Be

by , on
2019-01-17
Better will not be 
Not for them 
if not by me 
Not-all-men 
will not all sacrifice 
Not-all-white-people 
will not all open their eyes 
Pushing my hopes into their future dreams 
is just passing the stuck of our present reality
naming better evolves naturally 
claiming hate fades as life cycles
Not-all-them 
is not any relief
I must show mine 
how to blend action and belief
Must summon all that I already am 
to cultivate all that they already are 
but can’t harvest yet
I must make better 
now 
in me 
around me
not just for them
but with them 
so that by them 
better we'll be