Friday, May 6, 2011

Hard Questions

Adoption brings with it new and unusual conversations. And comments. And questions. For the most part, I welcome questions. I like to ask questions myself (too many, in my family’s opinion), and I appreciate others asking me questions because it shows they have an interest in my life and a desire to understand and relate to my journey. This is certainly true for adoption. Questions give me a good reason to advocate for adoption and orphan care, they give me an opportunity to mention the name of Jesus, they remind me that my friends and family have not forgotten even though they have not received any exciting answers to their questions for several months, and most of all, they give me a brief (or possibly not as brief as the asker was expecting) moment to ramble shamelessly about a topic I am most passionate about.
But I am finding that not all questions sparked by the statement “we’re adopting” are easy to respond to. At least not in a way that is simultaneously polite, honest, and God-honoring.

Here are a few of the not-so-easy questions we’ve been faced with thus far:
1) Why international instead of adopting from the U.S? This is one of the hardest for me. I don’t have a quick easy answer. Well, actually I do, but until about a week ago, I always felt a little bad using it. The honest, quick answer is, “because we feel this is where God directed us at this season of our life.” I often feel apologetic using this response, because it seems like a pat answer for such a big discussion. A week or so ago I was sharing our adoption journey with a woman, and she asked this question. I gave her the above response, and then said something to the effect of “I know that seems like a really brief answer, I feel like I should have more specific facts.” Her response startled me, in a good way. She said “that’s the best answer you could give me! If that is where God has led you, that is where you better go, and that is good enough for me!” Her answer changed my perspective, and from now on I won’t be so hesitant to give that response. There are various points that could be discussed on this topic. For Dave and I there is certainly a sense of urgency when a country has such severe poverty and disease that 1 in 6 children die before their 5th birthday; however there are obvious flaws in the foster care system too. The bottom line is, every child everywhere needs a family. I always conclude this response with “We are very aware that at some point God may call us to foster or adopt domestically, and in the mean time we very much support those who are caring for orphans locally.” Most of the time people are understanding. On occasion I sense a bit of an attitude about meeting our county’s needs first and I’m tempted to respond with something like “Oh so you must be adopting domestically then? How can we support you in that journey??” I can usually refrain from any sarcasm, realizing that it is not known for its effectiveness in spreading the gospel, but I do find it highly frustrating when such comments are made by individuals who are not remotely educated or involved in orphan care, whether “here” or “there”. Yet it is a good reminder to me in other areas to guard my tongue from speaking words of criticism. The whole “take the log out of your own eye before you try to pick at the splinter in someone else’s eye” is a lesson that I constantly need reinforced in my heart.

2) Ethiopia…aren’t those people black? This question is just awkward to me. If the question is simply an attempt to mentally locate Ethiopia on the globe, I understand. I’m not too great at geography either. However there could be more tactful ways of wording the question, such as “Oh, where is Ethiopia?” If, on the other hand, if the motive is simply to make a statement about the obvious skin color differences, why not plainly ask “how are you preparing to deal with racial differences?” (Which by the way I would likely respond to with “well, first of all, we are actually the same race, the human race, all created in the image of God, and all relatives through Adam”, but that is another conversation for another day.) However I do not deny the differences and challenges that we will likely face by having a diverse family. If that is a burden on someone’s heart, I am very open to hearing their heart and sharing my own concerns and prayer requests. The differences are real and though they aren’t as big of a deal as we tend to make them, they aren’t to be ignored. I simply wish that certain questions could be thought out for a moment and worded in a graceful way. But if the next time you see me you want to discuss skin color and can’t seem to remember any of my handy suggested wording, go ahead and pop the awkward one on me, just be warned that you may get a blank stare for a moment while I try to formulate a polite answer, or an unexpected giggle since my response to awkwardness is often uncontrolled laughter.

3) Don’t you want to have children of your own? This question is very multidimensional. First, let’s address the phrase “your own”. Please remember that I say all of this with kindness and understanding, I have asked many of these questions and used the same phrases myself. But as I prepare to welcome a child into my family who will be the object of much attention, questions, and comments for the rest of his/her life, I am becoming more aware of how some of our commonly used phrases sound and what they are actually implying. I want to do all I can to 1) protect my child from any preventable pain and humiliation, and 2) open other’s eyes to how their words may affect others. So back to the question. Technically, I will never “own” a child. I see it more as being a grateful caretaker to a life that God has lent to me for a little while. He creates each child, He gives, and He takes away. But I know that may seem technical, and I don’t mean to nitpick every phrase apart. Secondly if I am going to claim some sense of “ownership”, any child in our family will be equally ours. Giving birth does not make a child more “mine” than adopting. Now that I have dissected the question, let’s get to the answer. Yes, If God blesses us with biological children at some point, we would be delighted.

4) Do you have infertility problems? Speaking of awkward questions…I feel like this question should come with a password question. “This question may only be asked if you are a very close friend or family member of Dave and Carrie. You must answer the following password question. ‘Is Carrie a morning person?’ If you know the correct answer, you may ask the question. If not, I apologize, but you are not permitted to advance further.” There are certain topics that we all know are not socially acceptable to bring up to strangers. For example, I would not walk up to someone in Wal-Mart and say “Oh you have a lovely family, but why only 2 children, did you have trouble conceiving?” I feel like the fertility question falls into this category. First, if we had walked down the painful road of infertility, I would likely not be excited about discussing my grief with any random passer-by. Second, adoption does not immediately mean fertility or lack there- of is an issue. I realize that choosing adoption as first choice is not common, but it seems best not to jump to conclusions just because someone makes an unconventional decision. And third, unless you know us personally and have invested time and prayer in our lives, it simply is not your business. Allow me to bring up the topic and offer however much or little information I feel is appropriate, rather than interrogating me about such personal family matters.

5) Good for you, I could never do that; I just couldn’t love another child like my own child. This is not exactly a question, but it’s another hard responder, so I decided to include it. No, we are not good, or amazing, or impressive. We are weak, self-oriented, greedy people who have been redeemed and made new and are continually being shaped and molded in the hands of the Creator God. Any and all of the “goodness” you see in us is a direct result of the Spirit of Jesus living in us. Now that we have the first part clarified, let’s move on to part B. I am no expert on this. I have never felt a mother’s love for a biological or adopted child yet. But I have made a few simple observations. The first is that in other relationships, shared genetics does not result in an automatically stronger love. I have many friends that are much closer to me than cousins. The man that will be by my side for the rest of our lives is not (closely) related by blood, yet I love him as much as I could love another human! The point is, love is from God, and He does not give us greater or lesser amounts of it depending on whether the recipient is genetically related to us or not. While there may be different feelings involved in adopting versus giving birth, I am confident that the Source of love will supply and fill me with a love for the family that He builds for us that knows no biological boundaries, and I believe He can do the same in your family.

And I have saved the hardest for last:
6) How long until you bring your child(ren) home? I have given various answers to this question. A sample of them are “hopefully by Christmas”, “hopefully by the end of this year”, “Hopefully in the next 6 months”, and a multitude of others that usually involve a breakdown of our agency’s expected wait times and rattling off various month and week increments to try to make some sort of an estimated guess. But the raw honest truth of this question hurts and that is why it is the hardest to answer. I DO NOT KNOW. Again, I am so thankful that people still ask us. Sometimes I fear that it will take so long that those around us will forget. Sometimes I fear that everyone will get bored with continually getting the same answer and will quit asking. I have worried and fretted, moaned and whined, and begged and pleaded for the waiting to be short. I have never felt so out of control of my life. Yet that realization in itself is amusing, because who are we kidding when we think we do have our life in control? A five year plan?? We have no idea what tomorrow may hold for us, let alone years in advance! This journey has been such a good faith exercise, constantly reminding me that God knows the future, that He has plans laid out for our lives, and that He alone can and will bring them to pass in His time. My new favorite saying is “God won’t be a day too early or a day too late.” His timing is perfect. Now if only I could rest in His timing and leave it confidently in His hands! And so we press on. And we continue to answer questions (just not too awkward please!). And thank you for continuing to share in our excitement even though it’s now been a year since we first told of our adoption decision. And wait with eager expectation!

*Please be reminded again that even though I have shared my feelings on some of the questions we’ve been asked and the phrases that we don’t especially care for, I am not offended and will not be offended by your question, even if it comes out awkward, as long as I know you sincerely care about us. My intent is certainly not to make anyone nervous about asking questions, but rather to remind all (myself included) that it always pays to think before speaking, and because I’ve been amused at some of the odd questions I’ve received and thought I would let you in on the humor.