No Knocks on Adoption: A Follow-up on the Duck

adoption text on brown surface
Photo by Pavel Danilyuk on Pexels.com

“Listen to what I mean, not what I say.”

My husband knows those words well as they come from his external-processor wife. My best friends know how to “take and sift my words,” as the poet wrote.

To keep what is worth keeping

And with the breath of kindness

Blow the rest away.

But I don’t have that luxury, that “inexpressible comfort,” when I write.

I Failed And I’m Sorry

No writer does. Because readers can’t see writers’ hearts. You can’t hear my happy sighs or see my messy tears. You don’t know what happened last night or how he hugged me this morning. It’s up to me, the writer, to convey what I mean. And I fear I failed you, dear reader, last week. I failed to express my heart.

My last post, Don’t Force The Duck: 16 Years After Adoption Day, struck a chord. Actually it struck two very dissonant chords in readers. One group expressed gratitude for my candor with hope, the other near outrage that I would be so critical of adoption.

For each person who responded, there are dozens of you who made comments in your minds and left them there. I suspect The Duck ruffled more feathers than I know. 

What I Meant

While my goal for this blog is to build stronger, softer saints who embrace God’s uncomfortable grace, I don’t want you to be uncomfortable because of my inability to write what I mean.

So here’s what I meant when I took the twin occasions of the 16th anniversary of our A#1 son’s adoption day and National Adoption Month to share a few pages of our unfolding, unfinished story. 

I wanted to be the voice that I wish I had heard 20 years ago when I scoured the internet for adoption stories and studied all the “adoptive families” I knew. I wanted to be the voice that was neither the adoption-grim voice of our friend Jo, nor the blissful, glib voice I heard in those glossy adoption magazines. But I may not have been. So here’s take two.

What did I mean by that adoption post?

  1. I meant to say that any decision we make to love – whether it be to marry, to conceive, foster or adopt children, or to be a loyal friend— brings with it the very real risk that the results of our commitment will be harder than we thought. That is par for the course with earthly love. When the hard comes, we are not to lose heart and think we made a mistake. Rather, it probably means we are starting to love like God.
  2. I meant to say that I am not giving up. Not for a second. In fact, in the week since that post, God has softened my heart to help me better love A#1. A caramel macchiato with extra caramel delivered late to the high school is exhibit A.
  3. I meant to say that no heart change, including a decision to love a person or to love God, can be forced. God alone gives new, soft hearts (Ezekiel 36:26). I didn’t force the duck and the duck stuck is my reminder that God can soften hearts without my help. 

What I Didn’t Mean

What didn’t I mean to convey?

  1. I did not mean to disparage adoption in any way. Because in the end, adoption is the way every single Christian becomes a child of God. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves (Ephesians 1:5-6). God loves adoption. It’s how he builds his family. I’m glad we could adopt. 
  2. I did not mean to convey that the hardship in our relationship is one person’s fault. No way. I am a sinful mother—a sometimes proud and impatient, harsh and unkind mother. Jim is a sinful father, and we have two sinful sons. Our sins affect each other. We are all sufferers and sinners. I wish I’d been more clear on that.
  3. Finally, in no sense did I mean to convey that our story is over. Not a chance. While there is life there is hope. If can’t help myself, I am a prisoner of hope

Comfort Is Overrated

Maybe, if the duck post was your first, you wondered how it could possibly be written by a mother who is joyfully pressing on, by a mother who hopes against hope. Well, one of the themes of this blog is that comfort is overrated. Could I beg two minutes more to explain that?

By comfort, I mean being comfortable. Believe me, if I could find it in Scripture that God’s plan and will for his children during their time on earth was to go through unscathed, unchallenged, untested, untried, uncorrected, undisciplined—in other words, comfortable—I’d be the first to proclaim it.

But the longer I seek my Savior and Lord—and so far it’s been about 25 cycles through his Word— I can’t seem to find comfortable among God’s goals for us. I don’t see it listed as a Spirit fruit or a mark of the mature Christian. In vain I search for verses that say God’s children will be known by their comfortable lives. 

Mostly what I find is that Christians will be marked by their love.

For the Love of God

I read of a God who loved so much that he spared not his own Son, but freely gave him up for us all. I see a maligned and misunderstood Jesus who, in the span of one chapter of Matthew, is called a blasphemer and prince of demons. Then I hear the crowds laugh at him when he announced he’d raise a daughter back to life. Later, in the Upper Room, he would tell his disciples, if they hated me they will hate you, and in this world you will have trouble.

Now I hear old Simeon tell mother Mary that a sword would pierce her heart. I read that two of his three closest friends, Peter and James, were murdered. I see his servant Paul stoned, whipped, and left for dead. But I don’t find smooth and easy lives mentioned as evidence of God’s love.

Rather, from Genesis to Revelation, I meet a God who suffers with us, who calls us to come to him and share his yoke. I see the One by whom all things were made and in whom was life, indignant and weeping at the grave of his beloved friend Lazarus. I see Jesus who loved Mary and her sister Martha wait four days when he heard Lazarus was sick. He didn’t rush in to make them comfortable. He shows his love by giving us what we need most—a view of his glory. Suffering can give us that view. It can show us His glory. The stars are brightest in the darkest nights.

Adoption does that that for me. It shows me God’s glory.

Adoption, Parenting, Loving: All Uncomfortable Grace

This sometimes uncomfortable grace and lavish love of God is manifest in adoption every single day. Every single day. After all, He adopted me.

As I end, please know that your comments are most welcome. I love hearing from my readers. Whether your comment is critical or thankful or something in between, I am grateful to you for investing your precious time reading my words.

I pray that they will equip us to embrace God’s uncomfortable grace, and to grow more strong and meek—like Jesus.

Even as sometimes we groan.

And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.

Romans 8:23

Don’t Force The Duck: 16 Years After Adoption Day

A mom and dad awaiting baby on adoption day.
Before: Adoption Day Wait At O’Hare Airport

There are good reasons people choose not to adopt. I heard a lot of them. But this week, we celebrate adoption day.

Don’t Force The Duck

Think he’ll like the duck? I wondered aloud.

No idea. We’d never done this before. Jim was as clueless as I.

But I had followed the agency directions and all the pick-up-your-baby rules. The Britax car seat was firmly strapped in the back seat and the paperwork was in hand. Bottle, formula, blanket—check, check, check. My sister met us at O’Hare with the orange-beaked, yellow fella to mark adoption day.

The experts said it would be best to let him wear the clothes he was in and use the bottles they sent and slowly ease American formula into a blend with Korean. They said all the new sights and sounds and smells would be jarring to this six-month young sensory system. They said, Ease in.

No. I wouldn’t force the duck.

They Broke Her Heart

But let me back up. Before we met A#1 at the airport, we heard lots of reasons why we shouldn’t adopt.

The one I remember best came two summers before adoption day. My husband and a good friend, Jo, sat around me on the cafe veranda. I’m not sure how we landed on the topic of adoption. But suddenly here we were.

My friend Caroline’s adopted children both went bad. They rebelled in their teens and never did seem to accept her and Tom as their parents. They broke her heart. Even though they were treated like their own flesh and blood children, it just didn’t work out.

I’m not Pollyanna now and I wasn’t then. Nor were all my hopes of happiness hitched to the adoption cart. All the sessions with our adoption social worker guaranteed some measure of realism. Still, this was a bitter pill.

It happened to my college roommate Pat too. Her adopted son John never seemed to bond, even though he was with her from day one. He said vile things to them, left home at 18 and never came back. Pat said he’s only called a handful of times in all the years since. And then, only to ask for money.

Sobering isn’t strong enough to describe the effect of her words.

No, adoption just doesn’t seem to work out.

No Illusions Of Adoption Grandeur

That bubble-bursting conversation wasn’t the only one. We can’t say we weren’t warned. Our social worker, our friends, and our own knowledge of adoptions gone sour insured we were under no illusions of adoption grandeur.

But no illusions does not mean no hope. Not living life like I wrote it frees me to take part in a far grander story. The hard and heartache in this chapter does not mean adoption wasn’t part of God’s plan for our family.

Still, a grand story with a hope and a plan don’t make living it easy. A#1 tests my mettle and I test his. This National Adoption Month, I admit, it’s been harder than I ever imagined.

Mom and dad with baby on adoption day
After: First Day as a Family of Three

Make No Mistake

Do heartache and pain mean we made a mistake? Do conflict and strife mean we misread God? Does trying and hard mean we’d all be better off if we’d chosen not to adopt?

Absolutely not.

Because adoption is forcing us to trust, causing us to hope and teaching us to love. And last I knew, those three were the only lasting things: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

This is the adoption month message that came.

But it’s not just for those directly impacted by adoption. It’s for all of us who second guess decisions made in good faith whose results are far harder than we imagined. Maybe it was a decision to get married, to bear children or to remain a faithful friend. The message is for all of us who, for Christ’s sake, love right on.

For us sinful, disobedient people who keep on loving and, as we do, come to know and love our Father better. Our heavenly Father had a chosen, child named Israel who spurned him. It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the hand, but they never knew that I healed them (Hosea 11:3). And, All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people (Romans 10:21). To love this way, those who do not repay, is the love that God rewards (Matthew 5:46).

So my adoption month message for us is a question:

Could it be that the love you give with no earthly return

is the most godlike thing you will ever do?

Don’t Force. Trust.

I didn’t force the duck on November 2, 2005. And 16 years later, on November 2, 2021, I didn’t force a hug.

I can’t force golf, chess, or good friends and I can’t force dental floss, haircuts or good books. I can’t even force the veg. Once I was a royal tastemaker, but now I’m a short order quesadilla chef.

In all these things, I must trust that my God will meet all of this son’s needs without me pushing my way. In other words, this adoption, this son, and this God—his way is perfect—are forcing my force-it, control issues.

Could it be that one big reason God formed our family is so that that I’d quit thinking I can force my way? So that I’d trust that the perfect Father—whose own children resist and rebel, who spurn his love and break his rules—is completely able to lay hold of a heart?

A#1 wasn’t much of a snuggly, stuffed animal guy. But this beloved son is fond of the duck. Sixteen years after we met our stoic, six month-old A#1 at the airport, I snuck into his room to take a picture of Duck

I didn’t force the duck and the duck stuck.

Don’t force the duck has become my reminder to trust. The duck is my reminder that God can lay hold of hearts without me.

I know this adoption story isn’t over.

Stuffed animal yellow given on adoption day
“The Duck” 16 Years Later

Afterward: Two Quotes from Two Articles About the Good and Hard of Adoption

  1. There is no such thing in God’s economy as an “adopted child,” only a child who was adopted into the family. “Adopted” defines how you came into the household, but it doesn’t define you as some other sort of family member. In the Book of Romans, Paul defines all Christians, both Jew and Gentile, as having received a common “spirit of adoption” (Rom. 8:15; 9:4). -Russell Moore, Adopted For Life, Ten Years Later
  2. Some adoptions cause quite a bit of pain and grief in the lives of moms, dads, sisters, brothers, and other relatives. But just because there’s conflict, it doesn’t mean that the adoption wasn’t meant to be…God uses all things, especially conflict and struggle, to work together.. and bring about a good “end.” -Mark Gregston, Pitfalls Of Adoption