Adoption Awareness Month

I cannot remember not knowing that I was wanted.

I know there were times, there were seasons, when my safe adults were not safe and there was no mirroring, loving gaze to meet my eye as a baby. I once had a dream of lying in an institutional setting, on my back, crying and crying and no one coming. As an adult, knowing there were times when as an infant I was left completely alone and that was still a part of my nervous system, I’ve worked on self-soothing. I’ve read books about early attachment and brain development. I know that separation from my birth mother, after all existence in her womb and being programmed to know her smell and crave her body, was nothing short of traumatic. I know that months in an orphanage and shifting foster homes were not what were best for me–that attachment, milestones, touch and mirroring were not sufficient, couldn’t have been. I bear literal and symbolic scars of a time that is unknown to my consciousness, that my imagination and gut gingerly only conjecture. And having been adopted doesn’t make those things right or God’s plan.

In baby, nearly indiscernible steps, I’ve picked up these pieces of my story and looked at them for the first time. I’ve grown curiosity and self-compassion. I’ve submitted DNA samples and shared with Korean friends of my interest in my biological family tree and ethnic heritage. It has been a winding hum of a song, one that starts cognitive and ends limbic, when really it’s probably been the other way around the whole time. I have grown more aware and tender toward my losses. Toward the underbelly of my adoption and, even aside from the interracial and physical dynamics, how adoption in general is fraught with injustice, greed, racism, colonialism and patriarchy. It isn’t a rosey arrangement of mutuality and providence like the Christians say it is and like I first thought it to be. And so my arms are full as I added these stones to the resoundingly positive souvenirs I carry as an adoptee–a childhood trip to my birth country, my parents’ constant celebrations of our first meeting, a life of security, adventure, and awareness of the unlikely, the divine, and the unconventional. But all together, these things good and bad are also not inaccurately identified as “baggage.”

Having been a young age when I traversed the ocean, with several other Korean babies and our caregivers who were outnumbered at a 1:2 ratio, I had the “luxury” of not knowing the normal, of not witnessing people waffle over my future and name and where I was to sleep that night. I don’t remember the comments from my white extended family about my eye shape or at the first summer my skin turned dark. I had the naivety and limitation of being pre-verbal, not that I could not understand the feelings and the smacks of love or disapproval, whatever they were, but I did have limited comprehension, a limited sense of time, and no sense of responsibility in the adoption matter (I think). I, like all other young adoptees, also had no choice. The power distance was vast.

Today, as I read the stories of grown adoptees, transracial or not, I am filled with gratitude for my story and concern for its missing pieces. I insist on learning from them and push aside old storylines for the choices that grown adoptees have and make now. We are not pre-verbal, we were not blank slates and we get to say how it was and how it is. The white lady who has never once been adopted in charge of the adoption agency doesn’t. The accounts of adoptees that are not as kind as mine invite me to expand my understanding of my own plot, knowing that so many fellow adoptees have had different, valid, and newsworthy stories and they are further along in exploring them. I hold those with reverence and I want them centered. In many quick glance ways I am the poster child story for transracial adoption; decades ago, I fed into my own convenient story as being a testament to the virtues and solutions that adoption provide. (Ignore the overfunctioning, caregiver adult-child with body-focused stress-related behaviors and the need to learn emotions and self-soothing in my 20s and 30s.) But that is a one-dimensional story. Even as we became open to adoption earlier in parenthood, I could not continue that false narrative; there is something better. There is something more true, more just, more inclusive, and more respectful.

Yes, I cannot remember not knowing that I was wanted and being adopted means I was forced to go through a traumatic set of losses and ongoing identity disturbance.

It is National Adoption Month. Some churches will talk about this as an anti-abortion cure and cast adoption in a holy patina highlighted by horrifying statistics of children without a home. (While been startlingly silent on immigration causes.) Adoptees are calling it Adoption Awareness Month and they will be telling stories of a different kind—stories with nuance and tension. Stories with clear indictments and yearning, vulnerability and complexity. Especially if you’re white, I hold the door open for you to read the latter. Especially if you’re adopted and starting to feel the ground beneath you be firm enough to ask questions stored within your body, I hold the door open for you and hold your hand. The truth is for us; the truth is good and holy. The truth is inconvenient and honors the intelligence we were born with by removing us from the dumbed down versions.

Adoption Awareness is part of social justice, part of racial reconciliation, part of a true Christian ethic, part of being a parent or a family member and part of knowing and loving.

Here are some stories to learn from:

Korean American Adoptee Taneka Jennings

Kenyan American Adoptee Kae Leonard

Chinese American Adoptee Tiffany Henness shares about her story and the biblical “mandate”

Transracial Adoption Education and Resources

Recent news on Adam Crapser and the controversy over a documentary seemingly based on his deportation story; Adoptees for Justice statement here

A Slow, Low Walk in Lent

(Reposted from 3.6.19 BC)

When the holes of self become seen and embraced, when the grief is given over to, and we split the bill of life, there lays the possibility for shalom wholeness.

I can see no way forward without looking at our pain; I can realize no greater integrity and fullness by denying the truth.

Ash Wednesday’s kick off of Lent is a great collective recommitment to making room for death and dying. Instead of passing time, we mark time, in a way that opens and reveals. It requires individual work and reflection, but it is not a solitary endeavor. It is an ancient rhythm, a group pilgrimage. We together face calvary before the empty tomb, a wide and long caravan, spanning over the ages, linked by the gravity of human suffering and depravity.

It is not too hard to detect this.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

It is very easy to take ourselves too seriously, which is to say, we start denying ourselves of self-awareness and spiritual integrity. In our piety, we reject our feelings. On our pedestal, we let our fears drive us. Amongst our people, we sustain an image that wedges dynamite between the appearance and the person; a small situation, an innocuous question, and explosions occur.

It is also easy to take ourselves too lightly, particularly when we are accustomed to being dismissed. Our sadness is illegitimate, and so is our happiness. Our dreams are selfish; self help is a curse word. The abuse we have sustained is no big deal. Our gut is gagged. Our bodies are unknown and unloved.

Both of these are not the death and dying of Lent. Lent is shape and those are chaos. Lent is a trajectory, and those are a spiral. Lent is going to become liberation; those are isolation.

Which is a meandering way to get at the importance of the observance of lent as a part of a group, oriented in a faith tradition or family, stuck in a stream that is larger that one’s own vices and virtuous flat affect. Some of us are new in learning the church calendar; we only knew about 4th of July and Easter and Christmas Eve. We didn’t walk this lenten lowly walk as children, and so we are children today. Lucky for us, the Good News has always been for the least and littlest. The ones lacking inhibitions and who give thought and pause to lots of silly things and curiously consider their big toe. The least, who haven’t started collecting all the shoulds and trophies and filters.

If we follow in the footsteps of the suffering Christ, the weeping mother, the ancient way, we may just become reacquainted with our own brokenness. We can only hope. For on this path, initiated with ash, we find there is room to look at the somber truth of ourselves and the brokenness of our hearts. We find there is room to confess the dirtiest of sins and grieve the most hushed of abuses. We find there is room, in a faith featuring a long suffering Savior, to be our self–not too big, not to small–with others. Here we are reminded, the invitation is not to not be sad or tired, but to not be lonely and stuck.

On this joint pilgrimage of Lent, our broken pieces melt a little into one another and the whispered laments gain a little strength. The ash on my forehead seems similar to yours, and yours doesn’t make me love you less but more. Sorrow and grief turn out to not be the monsters we so long avoided, but the markers of a beloved humanity bursting with attachments and vulnerabilities…like a crying Jesus or collapsing Mary. Praise be.

Oh, here in the dust and dirt! Here in the honesty with one’s mess, here linked relentlessly to one another! Here grow the Easter lilies. Oh, here, here we must be again, because we forget this is where it begins.


Recommended hands to hold during your lenten journey:

Rachel Held Evans – Lent for Lamenting – a late biblical scholar and author of major lifelines for me (Inspired and Searching for Sunday), Evans posted throughout Lent her resources for guiding this time of lament, particularly for those of us who feel “on the outs” with our church history, our church, our extended family, our faith, or God Themselves. This is especially poignant since Rachel has died, and left behind a legacy of inclusion and justice.

Christena Cleveland – 7 Last Words of Christ our Black Mother – public theologian, social psychologist, and justice-oriented believer, she is de-centering the perceived male whiteness of the crucified Christ in her project. Focusing on the 7 last words of Christ, in black church tradition, she imaginatively reinvigorates our beliefs and perceptions of calvary and Easter. Introduction linked but full series available by becoming a patron of this change-maker (as little as $2/month).

Dominique Gilliard and Erina Kim-Eubanks – Lenten Lamentations – an incredible resource meant to help guide those of us wanting to remember rightly and allow for disruption along their lenten journey. If truth is the only actual way forward, and we know Easter is ahead, perhaps we will have the courage to be truthful about our past. This series brings to light pieces of our country’s broken racial history that require deep, collective lament; looking at them to remember rightly will only further attach us to our need for the Divine and our connection to one another—sounds holy. There is also a congregational liturgy to use in conjunction with this sobering, truthful guide.

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Ups and downs, ups and downs.

Be gentle with the celebration and grief; they are our inhale and exhale and we live by both.

Our capacity for sorrow expands our room for joy and also that in reverse.

Be gentle, fellow traveler. We are sick and growing, pilgriming and arriving.

We are child and elder before each day; we come from a long line of experience and yet draw near the moment baby new.

Our best hope of living is exposure and contamination. Overcoming is choosing when to shower.

Hold out for meaning; the ocean is in each tear, each bead of sweat, each breath on the mirror.

Salvation is tender and deeper than you were taught to go; we are larger than we thought but smaller than we knew.

Attend, attend. Tend, tend. End, end.

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