I love stories. I love stories about humanity. The gritty ones that my ears try to shut off and the love stories that I want to take in repeatedly, all fill my heart in different ways. Working in adoption allows me access to a myriad of stories. I usually listen with a few things in mind. One of those things when I’m talking to an adoptive couple or adoptee, is the beginning.
If you are at all touched by adoption, you know that the children who are placed, no matter the age of placement or the circumstances, don’t come from thin air, right? They come from somewhere, someone. They have a beginning that set their tone, their scene in life. As their story unraveled, there were key characters, events, and places. There was nature and nurture.
For example, can you imagine jumping into the middle of The Lord of the Rings trilogy? Frodo and Sam are trying to get to Mordor, an impossible task, they say, and they are struggling, but why? It’s just a ring. Yeah, it’s Frodo’s burden to bear, but he just needs get rid of it. That will solve everything. Now, get going Frodo…
In the beginning, we learn that it’s one ring to rule them all. We learn that in the Shire, where Frodo and Sam are from, where jovial creatures called hobbits live in community. Frodo and Sam cling to the goodness of home and the hope of getting back there throughout their journey. If we had not spent time there in the beginning, we would not care if they got back or not. The story would be over when the ring (*spoiler alert*) is finally consumed by the fires of Mount Doom.
Because we know the beginning of the story, the loss of the ring is not enough. Tolkien allows us to get back to the Shire with them. The Shire is home and though Frodo can’t stay for long, it’s such a relief to know he gets back there, right? It brings fullness to the story, completion, in a way the destruction of the ring never could.
If we don’t know the beginning, we don’t have context for the struggle, the climax or the resolution of the story. It’s not enough to tell our children they are adopted, we have to hold the details of their beginning, good and bad, with delicate and protective hands. We need to give our children the gift of the beginning of their stories and let them spend time there.
When I left my position at Bethany Christian Services last year to live in China with my husband and work for a missional company, I thought I was saying goodbye to adoption. I thought I was at a turning point in my story. When I got here, the adoption stories within my community were everywhere. Instead of having a reprieve from adoption on the front lines (I thought I was going to be in the background writing and encouraging), I am now seeing up close the daily lives of (mostly) internationally adopted kids.
And honestly, I can’t help myself, every one of those faces makes me ponder their beginning. I think of the women who carried them. I wonder how they are now. I wonder if they are able to grieve and talk about it. I wonder if their hearts break on their children’s birthdays the way mine will on Friday. I wonder if they have rituals to remember or mechanisms to forget. I wonder if they gave their child the information he/she will need/want. I wonder if these children get access to their story in a healthy way. I think about the big hearts of the adoptive families and how they step into the middle of the story with a unique and very steep learning curve.
My burden for the people in adoption is growing instead of shrinking. It breaks my heart when these stories begin with a negative identifier. “My child was abandoned under a bridge, on the lawn of a government building, at an orphanage, etc.” Maybe these things are true, but that is not the child’s beginning. That is the inciting event in their story, perhaps, but it is not the beginning.
These children come from someone. That someone is a flawed, finite being, who carried a child to term. What happened after that was ugly/beautiful, unthinkable/deliberate, careless/careful, unlovely/full-of-love, both/and. A monochromatic painting got a contrasting color. Contrasting colors compliment each other and bring harmony. They don’t block each other out. Both are important. Both make the masterpiece stronger.
I am becoming more convinced than ever that we need to create space and grace for the sacred beginning. It’s important.
Dig deep, friends, and then, dig deeper still.