The Hospitality of Adoption
On Wendy Kiyomi’s “The Stranger in My House”: Years ago, my wife and I adopted an eleven-year-old son, Brian. We had attended all of the adoption/foster training classes and met with numerous counselors, as well as others who had adopted. Our minds, hearts, and prayers were like those you express so well. Brian had suffered unbelievable neglect, trauma, abuse, and loss in his early childhood. He came to us “on trial” from a foster home, one of four he had stayed with over the past year. When we agreed to adopt him, he arrived carrying a big black plastic garbage bag that held all his personal belongings. We later learned it was known as the “foster suitcase.”
It has now been over two decades since his arrival and his ugly departure when he turned seventeen and left out of the front door, not looking back. Since his departure, his life and ours have been in such turmoil it would take a book to write it all. Many friends and family are still hesitant to ask about him, but when they do, we have learned to say: “He is God’s child and the story is still not over.” Please pray for those of us who have opened our homes and our hearts to these children and pray for these children, who suffered and continue to suffer such pain, sorrow, and grief.
I was so grateful to read this wise, beautiful counsel as I’m in the midst of an inner struggle about how to best serve my adult, informally adopted child who became more distant than ever after I needed to cut off financial support.
Frankly, it makes me wonder in my darkest hours if our relationship has been based upon transactions of goods and if it would be better to exit completely from giving gifts. I know the pain distorts my deeper understanding, and your article restored it.
As humans we do want to see results; we want to see the children we’ve poured [love] into “win” against evil, and we want to feel loved, appreciated, noticed; we want some confirmation from them as a message from God that our “investment” was well spent.
On my good days I know these are false idols, but at times the pain can bring the temptation for resentment and self-pity. I am grateful that you point us back to the fact that none of this is biblical, but that the act of such deep and vulnerable hospitality surely is.
The Longing for Children
On Matthew Lee Anderson’s “Is There a Right to Have Children”: Thank you for a rare, thoughtful approach to this difficult topic. If I may offer an additional thought worth consideration, it would be fostering and adoption. It seems remiss to not include it in this discussion. As someone who works with orphaned and vulnerable children in Southeast Asia, I can testify that there is a tremendous need for foster and adoptive parents. IVF seems connected to our belief that we will love biological children more than foster or adopted children. At the risk of oversimplifying, no family need be without children. But we must be open to other alternatives than having a biological child. Perhaps a couple’s inability to have a biological child is God’s way of meeting two needs at once: the need of a child for parents, and the need of parents for a child. Another heavy cost of IVF might be the countless children left without families, who otherwise may have been adopted. May we have sympathy both for the grief of childless parents and for the grief of parentless children. It can be powerful to reframe the question. What if childlessness is not a problem, but an opportunity? What if childlessness, like the man who was born blind (John 9), is not a punishment or because of their sin, but that the glory of God might be displayed in their lives? And what greater display of God’s glory than an orphan finding a family, and in so doing meeting the deep longings of others to be parents?
I really appreciate the gentle and thoughtful approach this essay takes. I haven’t seen anything quite like it – it goes squarely against the rights-based culture we live in and questions the belief that there is a technological solution to everything.
But I object to That Hideous Strength as a model for a better approach. While I also love the Dimbles, it is Lewis’s misogyny which is hideous – I can no longer read most of his work. That last scene, where Jane sees her husband’s clothes flung over the window and realizes she’s got work to do is too much to accept. I’m sure the author could find a better example in literature … or is that asking too much? In real life, I know many people who have accepted tragedy with courage and grace.
The Hope We Teach
On Louise Perry’s “Fear of a Human Planet”: Agree 100 percent. The future belongs to those who hope. A quote that should be shouted from the mountaintops. It should also be mentioned that for better or worse, those who are choosing not to have children are those who have the best chance of raising children to help solve the world’s problems.
It is a travesty that schools and society at large are teaching our kids to be hopeless, a significant factor in the mental health crisis. Instead we should be teaching kids skills and perspectives that are forward-looking and solution-finding, both helping to better our global problems while also teaching agency and responsibility to young people (which increases resilience).
Learning from Past Generations
On Peter Mommsen’s “Yearning for Roots”: In less than a year’s time I lost both of my grandfathers. To grieve their passing was strange. Here were two men who inspired me greatly and indeed in no small way fashioned me into who I am today, yet I knew so little about their lives outside of the brief twenty-odd-year window in which I’d encountered them. Of course, I’d heard some anecdotes of their youth and young manhood – of adventures and misadventures, mostly. I had a general awareness of the hardships they overcame. But I had never really taken time to learn my grandfathers as people. It wasn’t until my brother and I were given the opportunity to write the obituary of my most recently deceased grandfather that I felt some greater sense of intimacy to his life (and what a rich life he’d had!).
Now, working at a long-term convalescent center for the elderly, I wonder what stories the residents here carry – which maybe they’ve never told, or been asked to tell. My position allows me to connect with the ancestors of others, while I’ve largely missed the opportunity to connect with my own.
I agree that we do a disservice to ourselves and to others when we think we have nothing to learn from previous generations, and that they are somehow of less value than our younger generations. Mommsen seems to put a lot of the responsibility for this disinterest on the self-absorption of the young. But I see a bigger cause for this disregard: broken families. My father left when I was a toddler and I have no memories of him. He’s made no effort to keep in contact with me. He is a complete stranger. Consequently, I have no interest in discovering who he is or where he came from because he has no interest in me. If young people are failing in their duty to care for the elderly, it may be because the elderly have failed in their duty to the young. There are entire branches of trees that have been broken off by parents and I do not think it is children’s responsibility to repair that damage.
Love, Pain, and Healing
On Terence Sweeney’s “My Father Left Me Paperclip”: This one touched a nerve. My reaction is complicated. My son and I are estranged – not my choice. His mother and I divorced decades ago when he was around six. I moved away for a job but tried to stay in touch with letters, calls, gifts, visits. She and her family were very effective at blocking and rebuffing my efforts. The story he has heard about me, from bits and pieces I’ve gleaned over the years, is nowhere near accurate. So, who I am and who I am to him are parted by a gaping gulf of misrepresentation and forced absence. I saw him at his high school graduation and then, briefly, a couple of years later. Since then he’s married and has three kids. I’ve not met my daughter-in-law or my grandchildren. When his first child was born, my wife and I visited the town where he lives. We tried to see him and meet his family and deliver a baby gift. Again, we were rebuffed and warned in no uncertain terms to stay away, and then he severed all communication. On holidays and special occasions I text him, but he never responds. I’ve tried sending cards and letters but am not sure of his current address. Every day I wonder why my son so adamantly ignores me, is so ferocious in his withholding of himself. I may never know. I’m sad for Terence and what he endured and endures. I’m sad for all the fathers and sons who keep themselves from each other. I pray reconciliation and healing for us all.
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