Things I’ve learned from my adoption
“What do I have to be thankful for? My own dad didn’t want me.”
Thanksgiving was creeping closer, and I had just unleashed that question on a group of high school freshmen I thought to be my friends.
If I recall correctly, it was the first time I voiced that inner turmoil. My biological father had walked out of my life when I was a year old, eventually signing away all his parental rights to me. For whatever reason, high school was the time I really started processing his abandonment.
It’s not that I didn’t have a “good” life. I did. My mom had not left me. When she remarried, she took me with her, always caring for and loving me. My stepdad—who has never been anything but Dad—adopted me when my biological father signed me away. I’ve always known I was lucky.
But for me, that heavy question needed to be asked, then answered, before I would be able to see my adoption for the gift it is. High school, however, wouldn’t be a time of healing. Instead it was a time of increasing darkness as that question had its way with me. It would label me: Unwanted. Unloved. Discardable. I would believe it. I would react to it.
And yet, God knew. He saw. He cared. In my 30s I have come to understand that every time I wept, physically alone, He wept with me in His nearness. As I grasped this concept, feeling began to come back to my numbed insides.
Since then, God has provided tremendous growth in my life. I still struggle with depressive cycles, but they have become fewer and weaker. Sometimes I will feel unwanted, unloved and discardable, but those labels are more quickly flushed out than they once were. God continues to reveal places of hurt and anguish and there’s still weeping. But there’s also rejoicing. I’ve come to the place of being able to rejoice in my earthly adoption—looking at it beyond “being lucky.” In the process of learning to see my earthly adoption as a gift, I’ve learned a few things:
- Adoption starts with trauma.
Perhaps this doesn’t seem like something to rejoice in. It’s actually not. And yet, it’s important to grasp and accept this in understanding adoption. Adoptions start with trauma. I know I just generalized here, but I struggle to think of an adoption scenario that wouldn’t involve some element of trauma to at least the child involved. I think so often we can have a glorified view of adoption—and I don’t want to diminish its merit—but to bypass this root element of adoption is to lessen its messy beauty.
When root-issues are overlooked—and this applies beyond adoption—there can’t be a solid foundation to build on. Without a solid foundation, whatever is built will surely crumble. To be able to view adoption as beautiful, I needed to become comfortable with understanding how much of my life and worldview was shaped by the trauma of abandonment. Recognizing and accepting the painful element of adoption has been freeing for me and I’m thankful for the lesson.
- Adoption is a sacrifice.
For the child for instance, adoption is a sacrifice of trust. In some way, an adopted child’s trust has been broken. In my experience, healing from this is a lengthy, difficult process. It is a sacrifice to extend even a small willingness of trust to another parent after you’ve been hurt before. There’s always a risk of abandonment again, and an adoptive child has to decide between what can feel like sacrificial vulnerability or retreating toward self-preservation. Growing up, I did the latter more than the former. Relational vulnerability often still feels risky, especially with males.
From what I can tell, it also takes sacrifice on the part of the adoptive parent(s). For instance, it is sacrificial to have patience with the emotional scars of an adoptive child. Working toward establishing and building trust is time-consuming and emotionally draining. I have learned it is important to actively pursue this. I also know it doesn’t always work the way an adoptive family wants. Sometimes the root pain wins out, and that is also a sacrifice. There’s nothing easy about adoption.
- Adoption is a gift.
Now that I’ve touched on a couple difficulties of adoption, we can make a jump to the part so often focused on: adoption as a gift. This is true, but can be hard to see, at least for the child. It took me a long time to work through the trauma, heartache and sacrifice before I could begin to see my adoption as more than “lucky.”
Within this process, God peeled off another layer of my adoptive story, helping me realize my dad made a decision for me. As a general rule, parents don’t choose their biological children. But in adopting me, my dad did. I was old enough to have a personality. I was old enough to display a temperament. I was old enough for him to look at me and say, “no way.” But he didn’t. He picked me. He gave me his name. He claimed me. In ways only God, working all things together for our good, can do, he took the most precarious, painful pieces of my story and showed me how it reveals His glory. And in that, I have learned adoption is truly a gift.
- My earthly adoption mirrors my heavenly adoption.
My earthly adoption speaks volumes of the love my God has for me. My earthly adoption is a picture of my heavenly adoption—the adoption where God said, you have a personality, a temperament, a wayward tendency, but you are mine. I give you my name. I claim you.
Like my earthly adoption, my spiritual adoption began with trauma. Sin separated me from my heavenly Father. Being separated from Him was painful, devoid of color. Like my earthly adoption, it has taken me time to learn I can trust my Father. Just like trusting others in my daily life has been a challenge, so it’s been with the Lord. I have placed misconceptions, lack of understanding and lies in between me and Him. And yet, like the patient, adoptive Father He is, He has gently guided me toward truth. With His pursuit, He has turned me time and again to His word where I have started to have a better grasp of the knowledge of the Holy. As I am changed from inside-out, I expect Him to keep leading the way in this regard and I will gladly follow.
Despite its hardships, adoption is a gift, and for that I am thankful!
This article is adapted from its original version, first published on the blog My Healing Hands-On Home and on Malinda’s website, www.malindajust.com.