CBE: What kind of adoption have you chosen and why?
DesAnne & John: Adoption was our first choice for bringing children into our family. The decision to adopt our daughter Hannah from China was strongly influenced by John’s experience as a missionary in China as well as China’s reputation for having a stable adoption process. We also chose to adopt from China because so many little girls have been relinquished to orphanages and desperately need homes.
What intersections do you see between your decision to adopt and your convictions about biblical equality and justice?
In China, most of the children in need of permanent, loving homes find themselves without a family due to the mere fact that they were born as girls and not as boys. Poverty, disease, racism, sexism, war, and other forms of discrimination and violence are the main contributors to the staggering number of orphans around the world (which, according to a recent UNICEF report, numbers in the hundreds of millions).
It is true that God wants all children to enter into their spiritual family, claiming their rightful heritage as daughters and sons of the Living God. But equally true and sometimes neglected is the fact that God also wants all children to have loving, caring earthly families. God’s concern for the plight of the orphan is quite clear throughout Scripture.
One helpful, succinct definition of justice offered by the Mennonite Central Committee in their restorative justice work is that “justice is making things right.” Adoption is one part of redressing the injustices of the world that leave children without loving parents. While more solutions are needed on a systemic level to address the sins that separate children from parents, adoption is nevertheless one of the many ways of entering into God’s work of “making things right” when they have gone so horrifically wrong.
What advice do you have for families who have adopted or considered adopting children?
Our hope is that families that have adopted would provide a witness to others about the joys as well as the challenges of adoption. Even during our short time as adoptive parents, we have encountered several misconceptions regarding adoption that we have been able to dispel.
For those who have considered adopting, our hope is that they would give the very same prayerful consideration to adopting a child as they would to having a biological child. Too often have we heard that adoption was a choice made (if it was made at all) after all options for having a biological child had been exhausted.
From the pulpit one Sunday, we heard a couple describe their decision to adopt as a choice wrought with sadness and defeat, reflecting the fact that they had exhausted their medical options and had to give up on having a child of “their own.” We have also heard people classify children as “real” (i.e., biological) vs. adopted, as if a child is not quite part of the family if she or he enters it through adoption.
Comments like these neglect the fact that all children first and foremost are God’s. Whether children come into our lives through our biological contribution or through adoption, it is God who places them in our lives and gives us the grace to fully embrace them as parents. It is God’s image that gives them value and worth; not ours.
One of the great wonders of the Christian faith is that all believers become heirs with Christ through adoption and not biology. In Romans 8, Paul paints a beautiful picture of salvation, using the language of adoption to describe how God embraces us. To say that adoption is a second best choice for building families is to neglect the fundamental way in which God has chosen to build the Family of God.
How has your experience of adoption changed your understanding of family?
To one degree or another, we both grew up in families that were open to including non-biological members, so adoption was always in the realm of possibilities for us when we were ready to have children.
The experience of adoption has given us additional insights into our own adoption by God. For example, in Romans 8:15, Paul states that we have received a spirit of adoption: The Holy Spirit allows us to cry out to God as Abba! Father! Curiously enough, a few verses later Paul says “we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption, the redemption of our bodies” (v. 23, tniv). So on the one hand, we’ve already received a spirit of adoption, but on the other hand, there’s a sense in which we still await adoption. This passage made much more sense to us after we became adoptive parents.
When Hannah was first put into our arms, we thought that we were nearing the end of our journey in the process of adoption. We had started our paperwork well over a year before that, and knew that on the following day, Hannah would officially be our daughter. Hannah, however, was oblivious to this fact, crying for hours on end, quite angry about all of the new changes and people in her life.
Even though Hannah’s adoption was officially completed, the adoption process for all of us had really just begun. She did not have the spirit of adoption in those days. But through time and our loving presence, she came to know us as Momma and Dada—she came to know the joy of family that was meant for her long before she even knew it; long before she was even born.
In reflecting on our spiritual journey in relation to this, we know that we have been adopted by God; that we are God’s children. But what Hannah has taught us is that we are still in the process of being adopted into God’s family—that there are areas of life where, for whatever reason, we don’t cry out, Abba! Father!
Abba! Father! is a cry that is learned through time and God’s loving presence. Adoption into God’s family is about constantly learning the language of family. To lean on theologian Stanley Hauerwas’ insights, it’s about a process of allowing one’s life-narrative to be shaped and given meaning by the narrative of the family. Adopting Hannah and helping her to understand her identity as a member of our family and, more importantly, as a member of God’s family, has been an iconic experience for us: it has been a physical window that allows us to glimpse a spiritual reality.
What has been the greatest challenge of adopting? What was the greatest surprise? What was the greatest blessing?
The greatest challenge of adopting has been logistics: raising the funds, wading through mountain of legal bureaucracy and paperwork, and finally waiting for the referral. As Hannah grows older, however, we do anticipate that we will have the extra challenge of helping her to negotiate the grief and identity issues that she will naturally have as a result of her relinquishment. We also anticipate having to help her negotiate the issue of being a part of a mixed-race family and a racial minority in a society that will not always welcome her as such.
The greatest surprise is also the greatest blessing: Hannah herself. It is a joy to continuously discover the person that she is and that she is becoming. Each day is a new adventure with her. Whenever we are confronted with the occasional comment that Hannah is a “lucky girl” (in reference to being adopted), it comes as no effort to respond that it is we who are truly blessed.