Healing the Pains of Adoption

Over the past week and a half, I've really been honing in on getting Mekonen's actual lifebook started. We already have his lifebook DVD movie done and he's watched it a gazillion times. But we've been talking some specific adoption language with him about his story and simply need to get his book done in order to begin reading it to him and using it as an avenue to discuss the difficult parts of adoption. I'm only at the beginning and a few times I've sat down to keep going, it's just been too difficult emotionally for me and I've had to stop. But lo and behold, my goal is for it to be completed and in my hands by the end of summer.
There are so many "hurdles" adopted children need to jump over at various points in their life and I often panic that I'm not going to get it right, that I won't prepare him well, that I'm going to fail miserably in parenting my son to be confident in his past, his story, his adoption, himself, who he is, etc. I've done lots of reading and lots of research on transracial adoption and families and how to help adopted children navigate race, their identity in growing up with parents and siblings different from them, etc. There's much to be said about the research and the various talks I've heard from adult transracial adoptees. I would say, overall, I agree with them wholeheartedly about providing your child with positive role models that look like them, providing them with friends and social settings where there are some people that look like them, and giving them a strong "education" in their birth country and heritage, and being careful not to place them in constant settings where they are the ONLY one who looks different. We are taking all these things in consideration (to an extent) as we look to buy a house and think about schooling for our kids.

Starting Mekonen's lifebook has only heightened my panic about doing all of those above things well for my son. Then I went to church this morning and heard a great sermon by our discipleship pastor, Brian Liechty. Not only did it hit home in my own heart, but something else clicked about his message and parenting my child who was born in another country.
In the adoption world, it's all about identity. Who your child is, where they came from, who are they now, and who they will be as they process growing up with a family that does not look like them, etc. It's all about "forming their identity" and helping them become confident and strong about where they came from and who they are now. Although this is true (to an extent), as Christians we look at it from a completely different perspective, and I was reminded of this in church today.

I don't want my child's identity to be in the fact that he is Ethiopian, Ethiopian-American, or even the fact that he's a well-rounded child with feet in both worlds of Ethiopian/African Americans and White folk. As has been our prayer since both of our children joined our families, we pray that Mekonen understands and accepts Jesus' forgiveness of his sins through the cross and resurrection, and makes Jesus the Lord of his life. This dear friends, is his identity. Jon said it so well a few weeks ago when we were discussing location for buying a house, access to schools, etc., and I began to feel overwhelmed about "doing it all right." He looked at me and said, "I think the Gospel will do more for Mekonen's life and heart in that way than anything else could." Wow. I "knew" that, but yet didn't ever really think about it like that. It was actually a huge relief to hear Jon speak those words. But it's true.
The pain of adoption that all adoptees feel at various points in their life (whether adopted as infants or older children), is best healed by the Gospel. As a parent, it's hard not to fear those moments my son experiences grief over the loss he's experienced and the difficulties of his story. No one wants to anticipate those moments. We've had some of them in the early attachment phase and it was gut wrenching. But back then it was dealt with in a completely different way. My recent question and panic has been, now how do we deal with those times using words, and speaking into a little heart that is now beginning to put the world together. Before, in the attachment stage with a baby, words and explanations didn't mean anything. It was establishing the love and trust of us as Mekonen's parents and providing ways for him to build trust during those moments of grief and loss, even as a baby. He's a walking, talking, and processing 3 year old, and this part of our world changes now.

It is the life-long parenting process of pouring into Mekonen's life the fact that if Jesus is King of his heart and Lord of his life, THAT is his identity. Not his birth family, not the circumstances that brought him to be placed for adoption, not his adoptive family, not his Ethiopian heritage, and not his American upbringing. If he has accepted the forgiveness only Jesus provides, then He is a Christian and has a new identity worth far more than any other identity on this earth... that is the identity that is eternal. It's the ONLY one that matters. It is the thing I want most for my children.
Galatians 2:20 says- I have been crucified with Christ. It is not longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."

Once I became a Christian, I received all the benefits and blessings that Jesus has (Ephesians 1). I am forever attached to his identity, his status. As Philip Ryken said in his book on Galatians, "The reason union with Christ is such a magnificent doctrine is that once we get into Christ by faith, then everything Christ has ever done becomes something we have done. It's as if we had lived his perfect life and died his painful death. It's as if we were buried in his tomb and then raised to glorious heaven. God attaches to us the events of Christ's life so that they become part of our lives. His story- the story of the cross and empty tomb- becomes our story."
This is the greatest identity to have. In our crazy me-centered world it's easy to live looking for our identity within ourselves. That's what everything around us is telling us to do. But that's not where true and lasting joy and hope are found. With an identity in Christ, we need not base who we are and what we are worth on things that have anything to do with us. Instead, if we are Christians, we need to base our identity on Jesus.

Our pastor described 3 facets of living within our true identity. We don't base who we are and what we are worth on...

1. Our Performance- having a good or bad day determining if we are good or bad (as we define it).

2. Our Position- being a stay at home mom, working mom, homeschooler, specific job title, etc.

3. Our Past- things that have been done to us, things that have happened to us. We are not our tragedies.

And that's where it hit. I need to use the Gospel- which is the means to our identity being in Christ- as the healing agent in the pains of adoption that my son will encounter. Yes, there is still a need to do the best we can in the areas of exposing Mekonen to positive influences of people who look like him. Absolutely. But it is the Gospel that will free him. The Gospel will bring meaning to his life. The Gospel will bring identity and purpose. On the days where the questions are asked and the answers are hard to hear, I pray that as a parent, the Holy Spirit gives me the words to say to minister the Gospel to my child's heart. That this is not a one time thing... that again, and again, and again, I need to bring him back to the word of God to tell him who he really is and who his identity will be in if he trusts in Jesus. This is what I want for my son. I want him to look down at his beautiful brown skin, his Ethiopian heritage, and his American upbringing and be able to say, "My confidence, my identity is not found in anything having to do with me or my story. It's found in Jesus." That is the prayer of my heart, and that is where true healing begins.


Flinn said...

I love you and I love your babies! My heart yearns for the day when Mekonen understands who he is as a fully accepted and redeemed child of the Creator. He is blessed to have you as Mommy.

Julie said...

Love this, friend. I am right here with you and so glad that our children will have each other on this life-long journey! To God be the glory as we stumble along beside them, eh? :-)

I owe you an email..equally overwhelmed. Maybe we could Skype soon?!?! Miss you guys!

Jenn said...

Rachael - thanks much for the challenge. I know that when I have to work something around my brain for awhile that it's something that will impact me for a long time - and that's what your blog is doing to my mind. While I know you were talking about identity in the context of adoption, it applies to anyone (at least the sermon you heard!), including me. So thank you!

Rachel Sarah said...

I have been pondering this very issue recently and coming to the same conclusion. I appreciate your perspective SO much; I'm going to "pin" your post and read it again the next time I start to worry that I'm not "doing enough" for my kids. Their healing and wholeness and identity come from Jesus alone.

Karen Ashbrook said...

You don't know me but I stumbled onto your site when I googled images for humility and somewhere in your blog you had one. Well there are no coincidences. My husband and I are 43 - married 3 1/2 and have yet been unable to conceive. Last week out of the blue we got a call about a 15 yr old who wants to place her baby for adoption. After meeting her she wants her baby girl to be placed with us. I feel like the Lord led me to your site to give me an intro to some of the issues. What a blessing you are! Thanks for sharing your perspective. I can't wait to read more.