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

But Hypocrites We’re Not

Actor's Mask held in hand, hypocrite

We get stronger by lifting others up. The words on my friend’s shirt caught my eye, and I mentioned it.

Yeh, John looked at it and said, “Really?”

My friend is not a hypocrite for wearing that shirt even if her “domestic encouragement” lapses — even if she’s not constantly lifting, as on mother eagle’s wings, her entire family up. I’m not a hypocrite when I join the meeting because I gave my word, even when when something better came along. And you’re not a hypocrite when you smile at me, I tell my sons, even if you don’t feel the love.

Fake it till you make it might be more right than you think.

Hypocrites Are We. Or Not.

Don’t get me wrong—there are hypocrites inside the church and there are hypocrites outside the church and the best argument for Christianity is Christians and the best argument against Christianity is Christians—hypocritical Christians. Jesus saved his most scathing words for hypocrites. See Matthew 23. (Extra credit if you can count how many woes Jesus pronounced on hypocrites.)

Like this woe, in Matthew 23: 25, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.”

But this post isn’t to pronounce woes on hypocrites. It is to correct one misunderstanding about hypocrites. Because we might get confused and think we’re hypocrites when we’re not. And it’s hard to grow up and mature when we’re mixed up and confused.

So what exactly is this word “hypocrite”?

What is a Hypocrite?

The Greek word, hupokrites, from which comes our English word hypocrite means a play actor. In ancient Greece, hypocrites literally put on masks to play the various parts. A hupokrites is someone who pretends to be something that he is not. He plays the part.

Hypocrites profess to believe one thing but actually live a completely different way. For example, if you are a vegetarian spokesman who eats a burger every lunch, you are a hypocrite. If you are an opponent of alcohol and you drink a bottle every night or if you’re a force for family values who enjoys strip clubs on the weekend, you’re a hypocrite.

Those are blatant examples of pretenders whose aim is to look good and get applause. Hypocrites might be slaves to praise.

More Natural, More Hypocritical?

But too often Christians confuse hypocrisy. And whenever we do, it’s to our loss. We lose confidence, and we feel shame. Or, more dangerous still, we may feel emboldened to sin because it feels more natural, less hypocritical.

Here’s what I mean. In Galatians chapter 5, Paul wrote, For the flesh craves what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are opposed to each other, so that you do not do what you want.

It’s a duel till the death between the Spirit and the flesh.

Which means that when my friend wore the Lift Others Up shirt, even though as her husband teased, she didn’t always to live up at home, this was not hypocrisy. Rather, she was a fallen human living out the battle. She shrugged, I wear the shirt to remind me to live it out. When I sent birthday wishes to someone who annoyed me, this was not hypocrisy. It is the Spirit in me.

Now you try it. Fill in the blanks:

When I [pray, say kind words, or do acts of service] for [someone who hurts, annoys, disappoints me], this is not hypocrisy, it is love.

No doesn’t that feel good?

Hypocrisy Or Maturity?

Hypocrisy is not when we do one thing but feel another. That is not hypocrisy.

Hypocrites publicize one set of beliefs but live by a different set of beliefs. When you come to church but you don’t feel like it, that’s not hypocrisy. That’s faithfulness. When you do the right thing in your marriage even when you don’t feel in love, that’s fidelity. 

And I underscore this because I’ve heard this before, as a pastor, “Well, Pastor, I would be a hypocrite to stay in this marriage because I’m not in love anymore.” Or “I would be a hypocrite, Pastor, to give to the offering when I don’t feel like doing so.” God loves a cheerful giver, as you’ve heard me say before. Yes, He does, so keep on giving until you’re happy. 

Listen very carefully, doing what is right when you don’t feel like doing what is right is not hypocrisy, it’s maturity.

Kevin DeYoung, “The Lord’s Prayer: When You Pray

God wants his kids to grow up. So send the note to the annoying friend (he may already have sent one to you). Do the deed when you don’t feel like it. Pray for your enemies. Love on.

It’s the nature of life in a tent. We must fight our sinful flesh and selfish feelings (Romans 8:13) and even still, we will fall (Proverbs 24:16). This makes us strugglers and sometimes sufferers and only proves again that we’re sinners who daily need the Gospel to free and empower and forgive.

But it does not make us hypocrites.

So while we are in this tent, we groan under our burdens, because we do not wish to be unclothed but clothed, so that our mortality may be swallowed up by life.

2 Corinthians 5:4

Rejection, Crickets & How To Fight Loser-itis Right

Man holding up thumb fighting loser-itis

Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.

Winston Churchill

I heard an expert say that you are qualified to teach a “master class” if you know 10% more about something than others. A handful of scintillating course topics I could teach crossed my mind when she said that. Then Sorry, can’t make it, lit up my screen. I knew my topic: loser-itis.

Actually not loser-itis, even though I’ve got some experience there. But who’d take that class? No, my masterclass would not be about loser-itis, but about how to fight loser-itis.

Fight Loser-itis Right 101

The next text confirmed my topic, Something came up. See you next week. A couple friends declined my invites and my husband rejected my plan, and someone unsubscribed from my Facebook group all on one day last week.

But even worse than outright rejection are those soul-desolating, joy-decimating crickets that come when you pour your heart out and not. a. peep. For souls who long to influence, those chirps are deafening.

This all was inflammatory. It triggered my loser-itis.

But recall, while I am a certain expert on loser-itis, I’m fairly sure I know 10% more than many about how to fight loser-itis. I don’t have a syllabus or slide show yet, but I’d love to share three fight tips that help me beat loser-itis— and they’re all 100% free!

Belt On: Fight Loser-itis With Truth

Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist. Ephesians 6:14

No one has a chance against loser-itis—that discouragement that comes with failure, rejection and being ignored—unless truth undergirds.

Truth number one for every Christian is that in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. That’s Romans 8:37 and it deserved its own post. If you’re in Christ, you are not a loser. Period.

Here are the three other truths I’d unfold with those enrolled in my master class.

1. Sow On: Forget The Weather App

He who observes the wind will not sow, and he who regards the clouds will not reap. Ecclesiastes 11:4

Failure is part and parcel with trying. You can’t have one without the other. As Christians we are called to sow generously. We are to invite and initiate and bare our souls for the sake of the Name, even if no seed grows—or grows now, or grows where we can see it.

Because, you do not know if it will grow, but you will not reap if you do not sow.

You do not know if it will grow, but you will not reap if you do not sow.

This I know. There will always be excuses not to take a risk, and good reasons for caution, too. But if we observe the wind, we will never sow. At some point we must take that step into the river and stop looking at the weather app.

So when loser-itis bites, remind yourself that failure is part of success. Because not all seeds will grow. But none will grow if you don’t put yourself out there. Which leads straight into truth number two.

2. Love On: Accept No

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4:32

This is a proven winner in the fight. Hard as it is, we’ve got to give others the grace to say no, or even to say nothing. We are not entitled to a response. And if the rejection is personal and a downright outright rejection of us or our message, it is still for us to give grace.

Because everyone we meet has struggles we don’t see. And sometimes the healthiest thing is to say no.

Be kind. Everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.

John Watson

We all say no. And when we do, we want others to receive it well. Do unto others, as you’d have them do unto you. But it’s only the blessed meek who can go bold—can ask and invite and sow— and graciously take “no” for an answer.

So go meek, love on, and be kind. For everyone is fighting a hard battle. Which brings us to truth number three.

3. Keep On: Tend Your Little Patch

Let us not grow weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we don’t give up. Galatians 6:9

Don’t look past your front door for a cure for loser-itis. Odds are, there are people inside your house could use some TLC. Thirty years after she gave it to an insecure 7th grader, pining away on a Friday night, Mom’s advice to me is evergreen.

To have a friend be a friend.

I can’t count the times I’ve fought off loser-itis by texting or writing or phoning a friend. Maybe I can’t pick the circles I run in, but I can love the ones in the circles I’m in. Love the ones you’re with.

Jonathan Rogers helps me here. I mentioned his words before. Rogers says we all have a territory, —a little patch of ground that is yours to cultivate. Your patch of ground is your unique combination of experiences and perspective and voice and loves and longings and community. Tend that patch of ground.

Serve them. Keep on. Tend that little patch.

Rejected, Victorious, and Lover to the End

That would be my master course, three truths to help fight loser-itis.

But I’d have to bring it all home with Jesus. Jesus, the arm of the LORD, who was rejected of men and loved to the end.

Then at the end of the hour, I’d say to my class, Ya’ll, let’s go learn from Him. There’s victory in Jesus.

He was despised, and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief:

and as one from whom men hide their face he was despised; and we esteemed him not.

Isaiah 53:3

But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 15:57

Love Your Brother. Let God Love The World.

I love mankind comic

The more I love humanity in general the less I love man in particular.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky

The more I love humanity in general the less I love man in particular. In my dreams, I often make plans for the service of humanity, and perhaps I might actually face crucifixion if it were suddenly necessary. Yet I am incapable of living in the same room with anyone for two days together. I know from experience. As soon as anyone is near me, his personality disturbs me and restricts my freedom. In twenty-four hours I begin to hate the best of men: one because he’s too long over his dinner, another because he has a cold and keeps on blowing his nose. I become hostile to people the moment they come close to me. But it has always happened that the more I hate men individually the more I love humanity.

Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

Real People Are Hard To Love

At least for a rascal like me. It’s so easy to say I love the world or a major subset of it. But when it gets down to it, I’ve got my hands full loving the people right in front of me.

I am right there with Brother D. Some of the same petty things that disturbed him, disturb me. The brother who picks at his food and the sister who sniffles, the brother who doesn’t clean up his dog’s doo and the sister who speaks in high-pitch- that these little things can annoy me reveals a sin-sick heart. Not to mention the deadlies, like my envy and pride.

If I- sometime difficult, irritating sister- cannot love my sometime difficult, irritating brother – then Houston, we have a problem.

Because how can I love the God I cannot see if I cannot love the realio, trulio people in right in front of me?

Or, to borrow the Beloved Apostle’s words, If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. (1 John 4:20)

Why Now?

Why am I writing this now?

First, because I need to hear it. I want this chaos to breed clarity. And love. As always, I’m writing first to me.

Second, because I want you to be free from false guilt you might feel for not having a feeling of love for people you don’t know. We cannot love what we do not know.

Third, because our world is being shaken. And when things are shaken we must anchor on truth. Since the murder of George Floyd the world wants change. One thing I know about change- about good, gospel change- is that it happens one sinful heart at a time. Racism and all other forms of selfish, sinful, setting ourselves above others only ends when Christ comes to rule our hearts.

This is not to say we ought to be content with the state of our love. As if we could say, “I’ve loved enough. I’m done.” No way. Let no debt remain outstandingexcept the continuing debt to love one another (Romans 13:8). Be zealous to love and do good (Titus 2:14, Romans 12:11).

But we can’t let our love for “humanity in general” or our zealous words on social media substitute for patient, kind love for the real people in our lives.

Talk Is Cheap

The course of thy life will speak more for thee than the discourse of thy lips. Puritan George Swinnock wrote those words 400 years ago.

But Apostle John said way before that, Let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

We say we love God. We celebrate his love for us. But there is in us irritation and impatience and jealousy and greed and selfishness with respect to the people that God has placed nearest to us.

Brothers and sisters, should we say this gospel contradiction is okay? It’s easy to say, ‘I love God.’ Surely it’s much easier to claim allegiance to a God who I can’t see than to live in self-sacrificing love toward the people that we live the nearest to.

Paul Tripp, “Love’s War

Talk is cheap.

It is so easy to say we love people we don’t know. To hashtag my #love for the world is cheap. But to show patience with a sister who’s annoying me is much more costly. It costs my time and energy.

To forgive a neighbor who mows down my flowers, to rejoice with a sister who gets what I want or forbear a brother whose words wound- those can be harder than loving the world.

God Loves The World

The past two weeks have tapped me dry. In large part, because I have passionate and caring friends and family on “both sides” of these vital issues. I want to love them well.

I’ve searched my heart and sought peace as the Spirit leads. I’ve read uncomfortable words and wept for the heavy burden of sins. I’ve reached out to black brothers, albeit awkwardly, to to express my imperfect love.

But I haven’t loved the world. By grace, and for Christ’s sake, I am trying hard to love my neighbor. The one I met yesterday on the way to the mailbox, the friends I listened to last night, and the three who share this house with me.

It sounds glorious to say I love the world. But I cannot love the world. Only God is big enough and pure enough and loving enough to love the whole wide world.

Let Us Love Our Neighbors

Which is as He intended. Correct me if I’m wrong, but God never called me- called us- to “love the world.” That’s God’s job. Almighty God alone is equal to that task (John 3:16).

In point of fact, we are called not to love the world. (See 1 John 2:15.*) We are called to do something much harder than loving the whole world. We are called to love one another (John 13:34), to love our neighbor as ourself (Mark 12:30-31) and to love our enemies (Matt. 5:44). And loving those I see, who hurt or disagree with me, is far harder than loving the world.

So in these days when love-talk for humanity abounds, our challenge is first to love the Lord our God with all our heart, and all our soul, and all our mind and to love our neighbor as ourself. (Matthew 22:34-40)

But there is another challenge.

Let us rest in the unfailing love of God who alone can and -Hallelujah!- does love the whole wide world.

We love because he first loved us.

If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 

And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.

1 John 4:19-21

*In Scripture and in John’s writing, the word world has multiple meanings- from the created physical universe to the people who dwell on earth, to a particular subset of them. This article helps explain. For the purpose of this post, I’m using world in the sense of “all humanity.”