Tuesday, November 24, 2015

A Proposal Story (with a little history first)

Josh and Jen ~ January 2015 ~ Florida 

In August of 2006 I met Dr. Jen face to face for the first time.  We met for a couple of reasons. A now common close friend, Marcia, had asked Jen if she was reading our blog and if she had seen that I needed help with a horrible rash Noah had during our first summer in Haiti. Marcia invited me to her cabin and I met Jen and Marcia in NW Iowa when I was in the USA for a week.  

(There were dozens of connections between Marcia and Jen and I - friends and acquaintances in common, three special places in our lives in common, adoption, etc, etc.) 

January 2008
Jen and I didn't instantly become besties, but we did instantly really like one-another. 

By the fall of 2007 Marcia's daughter Tess was planning to come to Haiti to help us with our explosion of small children for several months and Jen was working at a hospital in Port au Prince and was being invited for meals at the McHouls house from time to time.  

We heard updates about Jen from Beth McHoul and we looked forward to all being in Haiti at the same time once we were done with getting Britt moved to college and having the grand finale child #7. This photo was taken in January 2008 as Jen headed back to Haiti to work at the hospital after Christmas break and Tess and my kids headed south ahead of new baby Lydia and I because we still needed to say goodbye to Brittany and move her to Baylor University. 

Tess helped us do this.
Lydie, Annie, Phoebe - January 2008 - baby to adult ratio improved with Tess

One day in January 2008 Jen needed to leave the hospital - she called to ask us if we would come get her and I mentioned to her by phone that Lydia was sick.  

Long story short, she asked me to bring Lydia to Port au Prince to pick her up and then she could see how sick Lydia was and we could decide what needed to be done.   The end result of the need Jen had for a ride that day, was that Lydia was correctly diagnosed within 12 hours and hospitalized for bacterial Meningitis. Later that week when Lydia started seizing, Jen was the singular physician around (Friday night seizures in Port au Prince - not a good plan - Doctors go home) that could stop her seizure (speaks Creole!) and save her from hearing or brain damage or worse. 

Paige and her 2008 big sisters, Jen and Tess
Jen moved in with our family out in the village in late January 2008. We lived and worked closely together for five months and opened a clinic in the village in 2008. We also lived together a for a lot of 2010 and 2011.  

Whenever Jen is in Haiti she is with us, an extension of our family and a important part of us.  

We've loved and lived through some pretty rough days and experiences and some pretty amazing miracles and triumphant moments.  We have seen death and destruction and birth and healing together.

We love Jen dearly and count her among our most trusted friends. 

Thank you Internet, and Marcia, for doing your part to make us friends.

*        *         *

NOW ... The REAL reason for this post:

(written and shared with permission)

On October 30th Jen's boyfriend, Josh, got in touch with Troy to ask if we would like to possibly help him to come propose to Jen in Port au Prince.   

(DUH!!!! OF COURSE!!!!! Dumbest question ever.)

When Troy told me that Josh had asked that, we jumped in circles hugging in our bathroom at 5:50am on the 31st ... Because we love Jen and hugging and circles and jumping. 

Josh began by wondering what would be "most meaningful to Jen".  I cannot count how many times he asked and wondered that as we spent about two weeks chatting back and forth, planning, and preparing for the big day, which was set for November 15th.  

Several (dozens and dozens) messages were exchanged between Josh, Marcia, Joanna, and Haiti. 

The paranoia of being the one to mess this up in any number of ways was an excellent diuretic for whole two weeks. 

We are a trim group of friends going into this Thanksgiving meal.  

ring shopping/planning

In the Twin Cities, Marcia and Jen's Mom, Connie, got to go ring shopping with Josh. Joanna and her daughter Cassie decided they needed to be in on the surprise and booked their tickets for Haiti too.

The plans unfolded over voice messages and emails and Jen kept telling KJ and I that she did not know if she would have a hospital shift Sunday the 15th or not. We knew we wanted her in Port au Prince by Sunday afternoon or evening. 

At one point KJ told me that she had heard me ask Jen about Sunday on two occasions and Troy on two occasions.  She suggested that we were not very sneaky if we both hounded Jen about her return to Port au Prince when we would not normally need so much detailed schedule information from her.  

KJ bought tons of candles and I asked Troy to hang paper balls up on the upper patio once we determined with Josh that at our house was where he wanted to ask her.  

Josh let us know his plan included writing a letter to Jen in a book and having the kids involved in some way.  We kept it quiet from the kids until a few days before hand.  Once we told the kids I wondered what was wrong with us because the stress of them spilling the beans caused several extra tummy problems for Troy and I. 

All of our kids were super excited, but Noah and Isaac celebrated with the most zeal.  Noah managed to break his bed while enthusiastically punching his mattress in celebration. 

Sunday morning the 15th - KJ and I were coming off of a birth explosion of the four babies you may have seen on Facebook or Instagram.  I was on edge and KJ was exhausted too. Jen had to get a ride into town because we couldn't go pick her up as we had planned and wanted.  She arrived at our house early on Sunday.

The morning of the proposal, Jen returned to Port au Prince and
was super crazy happy which made us nervous she knew something

Once to Port-au-Prince Jen made my kids breakfast and hung out with them.  I was still at the Maternity Center not wanting to be present when Lydia blurted out that Josh was in the sky or ask "When are Joanna and Cassie getting here?!?!"  Lydia and Isaac were the two we were betting would blow it.  Hope, Phoebe and Noah are stealthy and did not concern us quite as much.

Happy fools, Haiti-and-proposal bound

As it turned out, zero of our kids messed up. These are some happy secret lock-boxes we are raising.  Isaac moved his limbs and eyebrows in an excited and exaggerated way all day, but Jen did not notice it.

I arrived home around eleven in the morning and went upstairs to "nap" which really meant texting with KJ, Marcia, Josh, and Joanna as they all had nervous tummies in their respective locations.  

Around 1:30pm Sunday, Troy said he had to go "to a meeting" and left as Jen was just going swimming with our kids.  

Troy went to the airport and picked up Josh, Joanna, and Cassie. He delivered them to KJ's apartment to rest, shower, and try to chill out for a bit.   

I texted Jen from my room and asked if she would want to go grocery shopping with me later in the afternoon when Troy came back with our truck. No surprise, Jen said yes, she would. We had no plan B on that, so it is good she is so agreeable about grocery shopping.

At 4pm I came downstairs to go to the store with Jen.  I made up a lie about why I needed to go to the store that was further away.  (Can't get good bread just anywhere!)  I grabbed the keys and said to Troy, "Need anything - should I get apples?"  Troy said, "No because J ..."  


He was about to say "Joanna brought us apples" --- but then I overcompensated for him and made it a very awkward moment where Jen determined that we were being very weird about apples and maybe needed psychiatric help.

Jen says I shopped slower than she has ever seen.  It is odd for me to do our shopping in the first place, but to take a long time and be purposefully dragging my feet in order to keep the bride-to-be AWAY from my house while Josh got settled and made his final plans, was the entire point of the trip.  We got finished too quickly, so I asked Jen if we could stop at one more store. The point of going to the other store was made up too, the real thing I was trying to accomplish was to get her back to our house after the sunset for the big moment.

While we shopped KJ moved the Minnesotans into the house and the kids got to reunite with Jo and Cassie and hear from Josh.  I am told that Josh did some practicing his proposal with Lydia during that hour and a half.

We pulled back into our driveway at 5:30pm.  As Jen and I unpacked groceries in the kitchen with Geronne, everyone upstairs was at work. They lit 100 candles and four of the kids (all but Lydie) climbed onto the roof above the patio with confetti in hand. 

Once all the candles were lit, Joanna and KJ and Cassie and Troy hid in our bedroom, which has a window facing the patio. Josh hid around the corner of the patio outside.  

Lydia was tasked with getting Jen upstairs.  

Lyd ran into Jen's room downstairs and said, "JEN JEN - I GOTTA SHOW YOU SOMETHING!!!" Jen was putting something away or being her overly organized self and pushed Lydie off for a second, on the third ask Jen said, "okay okay, I'm coming!"

Lydie led Jen to the lit up patio and holding Jen's hand brought her to the book on the glass table. 

Lydia said, "Here. This is your book. Read it."   Jen said, "WHAT is going on here?"   -  Lydia said, "SOMETHING!!" and ran like a track star out of the scene and into the bedroom with the others. 

Jen sat and read Josh's words for several minutes.  All of us were watching and stalking and being utterly creepy.  

After reading the end of the letter Jen said, "Will you come out here?"   

Then, Josh appeared and got down on one knee.  It was hard for us to hear what was said so we waited until invited to come out.  Once Josh announced, "She said, YES!"  the kids tossed their confetti from above and we started toward our friends for hugs and high fives. I perhaps jumped the gun by a few seconds, but she had in fact already replied to the big question. (Yes, indeed - I was already celebrating with a beer in hand. Not messing up was reason to start celebrating while spying.)


The next part of the surprise was delivered when Geronne came out onto the patio holding baby Cassie.   Jen had a "what tha?!?!" moment and look on her face and then Joanna came waltzing out too.  

We celebrated together with wine and an amazing Haitian meal Geronne made especially for Jen.   

The next day we played hookie from all responsibility and went to the beach together.  

It was truly beautiful to see how hard Josh worked to make it exactly what would mean a lot to Jen  - and it was fun to get to be a part of surprising her. 

all but Troy and Marcia from engagement extravaganza 2015

There are of course, many amazing people doing things to love our world and people.  I get to meet people like this often.  HOWEVER, there is only one Dr. Jen. There is only one person that I have seen save my own child and love and impact the lives of scores of others.

We are so very grateful the Josh and Jen found one another*.  Mr. Dr. Jen is truly wonderful and perfect for Jen and vice versa. We are so so so happy for them and excitedly anticipating the day they make this big commitment.
 *       *       *

Lastly, the top photo on this blog post ... In January we were all at Paige and Michael's wedding in Florida. It was an a busy time, but our kids got to meet Josh and we all wanted to get to know him as best we could in a busy few days. 

Noah and Paige's Pastor, Josh Carney, took this photo. Noah told Josh he would be needing it some day. Right when Noah learned that Josh Dwyer was coming to Haiti to pop the question, Noah asked me to get this photo from Carney. 

*(Josh and Jen were introduced by Joanna and her husband John. If your name starts with something other than J, sorry about your luck.) 

A note from Jen:

I don’t even know how to adequately express my thankfulness to everyone who was involved in this epic surprise, but I will try. 

First to Tara and Troy and the kids—You guys have been like family to me since the very beginning. I honestly can’t imagine my life without y’all in it. We have been through so much together and you have always been so kind and supportive, especially in the hardest times. Thank you for always cheering me on, and making me laugh, even (especially) when life has been shitty. I love you all so much. 

Marcia—You’ve been one of my best friends for more than 15 years. I love that you were such a big part of this surprise and I love knowing that Josh was in contact with you almost every day leading up to it. Your influence shows because you know me so well! Thank you for being such a good listener and for helping me through some really hard years. Love you tons!

Joanna (and Cassie and John)—I will never forget that moment when Geronne walked out onto the porch with Cassie in her arms, and then you walked out after them. As if the shock of getting engaged in Haiti wasn’t already enough! :) I am so honored that you made the trip with Josh and we are so incredibly grateful to have you guys in our lives. Oh, and thanks for that whole introduction thing too! Josh & I as a couple wouldn’t exist if you guys hadn’t told us to just “have the conversation”. Much love to you all!

KJ—It is crazy to think that we only met a couple years ago (and even then it was over Skype). You have been such a perfect addition to the maternity center team and I can’t imagine Haiti life without you there. Thank you so much for coordinating so much of this surprise behind the scenes, and for letting Josh pace around your apartment for a few hours while I was blissfully unaware :). I love you so much! 

Mom and Dad—Thank you so much for all of your love and support over the years and for being so kind and welcoming to Josh. Thank you also for passing on your beautiful engagement ring to us. It is so special to be wearing a ring that you wore for so many years. We love you!

And to Josh—Sometimes you know me better than I even know myself. You knew exactly how to make this whole engagement surprise so special and meaningful. I will never, ever forget the feeling of walking out onto that porch and seeing our journal and the candles and knowing that you were so close by. You are the love of my life and I cannot imagine my life without you in it. Thank you for being so kind, funny, generous, sweet, giving, and all around amazing. I waited a long time to find you. And vice versa. Sometimes I can’t believe how lucky I am that life brought us together (well, life, and Dols…we will always be indebted to him!). I love you so very much. Shit definitely got real :)

Ten Years of Web-logging Life ~ Our 10th Blogiversary

10 years ago - the fall 2005 version of us

The house we moved out of to head to the Caribbean

Ten years ago today I wrote our first blog post.  We were parents of five (Britt,Paige,Ike,Hope,Noah - ages 15.5, almost 11, 4, 3.5, and 1.5) and we were preparing to move to Haiti for an eighteen month time-period. (18 months - 120 months - same-same)

Troy wrote this post the day before leaving for Haiti.  (He moved three weeks before the kids and I did.) 

In the early days, months, and years, I used to write a lot more, maybe even too much. When we arrived in Haiti the blog was our main way to communicate with family.  It's wonky to think that since that time we have added into the "communication" mix: Skype, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Voxer, and smart-phones. We did not use any of those in our first months and years in Haiti. 

When I first arrived here, there was too much happening in my head as I sorted out categories and suffering and theology and all the feels at breakneck speed.  

I wrote a lot to try to record history and figure out what I thought about everything being turned upside down.  If there is one post that has been written 100 times in a variety of ways  - it is the post that basically says "I don't understand things I used to think I understood - and that makes me feel crazy." 

We left our first Haiti assignment wounded.  It was painful to try so hard to make a relationship with leadership work, only to learn they preferred for it not to be repaired and wanted to see us go. Moving to Port au Prince felt intimidating after living the village life - and we did so with great trepidation.

Once we got to Port we found a deep connection with the McHouls and the work they do. Thankfully we had been friends for three years at that point, that gave us a lot of opportunity to know them better. We split our time from late 2008 to early 2010 with another organization. That fell apart after we couldn't get financial questions answered. Disappointment (and probably some disgust) over that simmers right below the surface. 

Being a small part of the birth of the Heartline Prenatal Program and attending the very first birth Heartline Maternity Center ever had, is something I feel so grateful for.  We recently found the "chart" from that first birth and laughed hysterically at how terrible of a job I did at charting.  A LOT has changed since that September 2009 birth.  

(We will take all our record-keeping digital in 2016, leaving no room for ridiculous charting to happen ever again.)

Some of my very best friends have come as a result of this blog and relationships that began on-line.  The positive relationships and good things have far outweighed the critical or unkind things.

The ten years have changed us a lot - in all the ways.  We had the pleasure of hosting five foster-children, we added two more kids to our family, met and fell for two sons-in-laws, and of course a superstar grandson ... Tons of expereinces that have molded us into who we are now and who we are becoming. 

Ten years certainly have caused us to know less.  That tends to make folks feel nervous, it seems there are some that require knowing all the answers. Admitting we know precious few of them can cause squirming and discomfort.  Total certainty is confusing to me when I see it in others, my experiences from the last ten years have totally deranje**-ed certainty for me.  

I believe things, I experience things, but I am not 100% certain of very many things.

I don't write as often as I would like to anymore, but the one thing I wanted to write today, on the ten year Weblog Anniversary, was this: 

We (my family in its changed form) are continually aware of how much and how often the love and support and kindness and generosity and prayers of this on-line community have carried us.  Whether it was during tropical illness, birth-emergency at the Maternity Center, political upheaval, natural disater, or painful relationship things - We have ABSOLUTETLY felt loved and served by you all.
It feels insufficient and too distant to me to thank some of you who remain faceless (except for maybe a thumbnail photo) -- I'd much prefer to sit with you one-on-one (becasue introverts don't like large gatherings) and talk and express my gratitude over the world's blackest cup of coffee.  Because that seems unlikely - THANK-YOU for the numerous ways you've helped us be here doing this. We appreciate the role you play and consider it incredibly important - when we thank God for all our blessings, we thank Him for you.

**Deranje is a Kreyol word that I love. It means to disturb or disarrange.

Our kids on the day Troy left for Haiti

Next Post:  The story of how Josh came to Haiti and pulled off an epic surprise for our amazing Dokte Jen  -  wedding in 2016 !!! 

Monday, November 09, 2015

When LOVE Shows Up: Reporting on the Love Flash Mob & Together Rising

Thanks to the generosity and efforts of thousands of people each giving a small gift, The Heartline Maternity Center in Port au Prince, Haiti - will soon be receiving $230,000 for an expansion project. 

(Details on how that will be used at end of post.)

Amy & Glennon as they left Haiti
If anyone ever, in the history of the world, had a chance to convince me that the Internet is a place where good can happen, that person is Glennon Doyle Melton.  

You see, I am a realist. As a realist I admittedly walk right on the edge of the cynicism line, sometimes tripping all the way over and flailing around on the ground in a fit of despair or disgust. When I am being cynical and get caught and called out,  I just shrug and say, "hard-core-realists get called that sometimes."  But -  Inside, I know

I know I'm prone to distrust that there is SO MUCH deep goodness and love in the world. I am guilty of hyper focusing on the jealous and angry, the dishonest ones, the people that make mountains out of molehills, the ones that are critical. When I am dumb and do that, I always forget that there is a large army of folks that live their lives in order show up and help - in order to love and lift others up. 

When Glennon first (see: www.momastery.com) wrote me to say she felt she and her non-profit, Together Rising should consider doing something to help The Heartline Maternity Center, I instantly broke out in hives.  

I love Glennon as a friend and peer and have enjoyed the times we have been together. I felt super afraid to have our friendship change into "business" and spent several weeks lamenting to Troy that maybe the risk was too great.  I care more about relationships than I do fundraising and maybe mixing the two wasn't something we should do???? What if everyone hates this Love Flash Mob fundraiser or doesn't care about the cause, I asked Troy.  Glennon will get hurt and so will we.  Do we want to risk the rejection?

However, Glennon seems to live in the space and the reality that matches her conviction  - That conviction being: love conquers all.  

She pushed me about "doing something!" and I in turn pushed her to come to Haiti and see it all first - that went on for a bit - until we all agreed that we would willingly risk together. 

Thus, the Together Rising Love Flash Mob you likely heard or read about here and here took place in October.  

There was no rejection.  

There was love.  There was beauty.

People showed up and gave and shared and cared.  It was stunning to watch.  

Telling the pregnant ladies what happened the next day was a really special moment. "So, the Internet, you all know about it, yes?  Well, the tiny little lady that visited in September and her tiny little friend and the whole Internet gave us a lot of money to make this place bigger and better and to help more of your sisters and aunts and friends have a place to come find love and community and a safe place to deliver."   

They all nodded at the awesomeness of the Love Flash Mob and marched outside to pose for this photo.

Dear Lovers of Women, Dear Sisters that Show Up,
I am writing for all of us at the Heartline Maternity Center when I say, we don’t at all comprehend or believe what you just did. We want you all to know this: The depth and breadth of this love will unfold for years to come. **YEARS**
When we consider that each life is ascribed unsurpassable worth, and that this gift you’ve given will allow many more women to give birth safely – where they will be honored as individuals, and surrounded by love … And then you consider how love changes people and they take that love they receive and go touch others.
There is literally no way to quantify what this Love Flash Mob has birthed in Port au Prince, Haiti.
We feel all the things right now. Not an exhaustive list: Grateful, Excited, Nervous, Thrilled, Humbled, Anxious, Jubilant, Hopeful -and mostly, Overwhelmed by Love. 
Heartline M.C. Staff 

My favorite laugh-out-loud moment of the hours Glennon and her trusted right-hand-(wo)man Amy spent with us, happened early in their trip.  

We picked them up from the airport and drove them straight to the state run hospital in order for them to get a chance to see what that option looks like.  Most women deliver at home, but if they don't want to deliver at home, this is the main Port au Prince option. We thought Amy and Glennon should know what the women face here as they make these choices (or the choices happen to them in most cases) about labor and delivery. 

When we drove into the hospital parking lot, the security guard with a automatic weapon in his hands made a gesture to Glennon while making direct eye contact. The gesture was to take his fingers/hand and from left to right drag them across his own neck. Glennon's eyes popped straight out of her head and into my hands.  I frantically repositioned them and popped them back in her head. She said, "Oh my gosh! What did I do?!?!?"  I laughed and said, "In Haiti that just means he is thirsty or hungry".    

The guy with the huge gun making a motion that appears like he wants to cut your head off  -  is actually communicating non verbally that he'd love a drink and is not well at the moment. NO WORRIES.  :) 

I think Glennon's eyes went back to normal fairly quickly, but I'm not sure her heart-rate ever did. 

Lydie and Phoebe and Amy and Glennon - PowerHouseTeam


We currently work out of this Maternity Center:
(see video tour of the MC above if interested) We have reached capacity in this 1300 square foot space.  We truly need more space in order to grow and we need the extra operating cost money before we could grow.  

The 230K is going to do ALL of the following:

Add a second floor to the M.C. - this will be classroom space, add a two-stall ladies restroom upstairs in the classroom, convert the downstairs classroom space into 2 postpartum rooms and 1 versatile room that will be used for prenatal visits, postpartum recovery, etc., as it is needed, after that we will remodel and upgrade the current birth-room bathroom, buy medical equipment, pay one (new) midwife salary, do some professional development/education for the staff, provide continued birth control services and grow the Prenatal and Early Childhood Development programs by 30%  -- adding 20 more women at a time in those programs. 

Heartline Maternity Center is accountable to Together Rising's Board to spend the money as agreed and designated.

How long will this take to happen?

We believe that 100 days from now the upper floor will be completed. At that point we will have the space and bandwidth to do every other thing listed above. Haiti has a way of keeping life interesting (read: things don't usually go as planned) but we have chosen and hired the general contractor and we await the news of the actual construction start date. 

This is great news!  Does Heartline Ministries need our financial help and prayers after this huge successful thing and after that large gift has been given to the Maternity Center?

It IS great news.  We're giddy about it. Thanks for asking that, because YES YES YES YES YES, we still need everyone that helped us meet the previous operating costs. We still need every family, church, individual, and group that sent their monthly sponsorship or donation.  

We still have all the other things going on at Heartline Ministries and this gift from Together Rising is very specifically designated to only the Maternity Center and exactly what we've listed above. The previous operating costs all continue. Your faithfulness in helping us make payroll and run all the programs is huge and important and appreciated beyond what we can communicate in a simple blog-post.  The joyful ladies in that photo above are living testaments of the ways your prayers and gifts are put to use  - and bless many.   

As always, Heartline Ministries and The Heartline Maternity Center and our staff and my family are crazy grateful to be where we are - SO grateful. We are seeing God at work in and through all of you, we are seeing the lives of women changed. THANK YOU for your generosity, love, and commitment.

With LOVE-

Thursday, November 05, 2015

All the November Things (teachers, elections, loveflashmob, adoption)

Troy just returned from four nights in the Houston, TX area.  He was able to see both of our girls and their husbands and the amazing grand-baby.  He also hired two Texas teachers for the January to June teaching position.  The kids have teachers for the next semester!  SO many of you shared that post, per our request.  We want to thank you because most of the applicants were not folks we had any prior connection to - you helped us find our teachers.  


(To applicants -  my computer totally crashed Saturday and it was/is not backed up.  This means I cannot get to your email addresses - the reason you did not receive a polite email that said, "Thank you so much for your interest in the January to June opening, the position has been filled."  I know it is tacky that you may find out here.  I'm sorry, I don't know when the Apple people will get my computer and be able to give me access to my mailbox. Please forgive this lame way of communicating with you.)

*           *             *

I am hoping to get time to share with all Heartline friends the story of Glennon and Amy's trip to Haiti (there are some FUNNY things you must know) and also to detail which portion of the funds that were raised will be coming to the Heartline Maternity Center and exactly how we will be using those funds. That is on my to-do list and will be the next post here.  Please keep supporting Heartline Ministries and help us love and honor Haiti with educational opportunities and maternal healthcare.  You can support Beth McHoul as she runs a race November 14th with several others for Heartline by clicking here. 

Also, today happens to be a big day in Haiti as the announcement regarding the presidential election are going to be made. Please pray with us.

*              *            *

Our friends Bryan and Angela are launching a new project.  We're so excited for them and hopeful that they will quickly be able to move forward.

If you saw the Documentary entitled CLOSURE, you already know how solid and honest and vulnerable these two have been in order to elevate the voices of adopted children and adults - as well as their birth parents.  (This is our heart - to honor their stories in every way.)

This new project is going to be just as lovely and I believe it is necessary work.  Please watch this and consider kicking your weekly coffee money toward their cause. GIVE HERE.

By Angela Tucker, Originally printed at Christianity Today

November is National Adoption Month. Along with church observations of Orphan Sunday and the newly founded World Adoption Day, this is a time when adoptive parents talk, tweet, and blog to share their experiences and celebrate the families they’ve grown through adoption.
You’d think that this kind of public campaign promoting adoption would be something that gets adoptees like me excited. Instead, I find myself feeling ambivalent. Too often, parents’ voices dominate the adoption conversation, both in society overall and in American evangelicalism. Their generally positive narratives—stories of welcoming happy kids with open arms, of fulfilling a biblical call to care for orphans— often downplay the complexities of adoption and the viewpoints of the children involved.
In response to National Adoption Month, adult adoptees started a social media campaign (#FlipTheScript) to incorporate their first-person perspectives. It is our hope that by telling our stories, more people will consider the complicating factors in adoption—not to discourage adoption, but to truthfully present the dual realities adoptees are forced to live within. For example, one adoptee wrote of her birth mother and her adoptive mother: “I love both of my mothers. Just like how parents can love more than one child. Neither love can be measured.” Lost Daughters, a writing group featuring the perspectives of adoptees, spoke to the importance of sharing their stories in this short video about the #FlipTheScript campaign.
I believe incorporating adoptees’ stories can also help balance the discourse around adoption for Christians, too. We can do more to recognize that tragedy is inherent within adoption. Even when an adoption plan is the best option for an adoptee, having a “better” family does not negate our complex feelings for our first families. I feel compelled to address some of the uplifting narratives and clich├ęd phrases I hear in Christian circles—and challenge us to think not only what they say to the world about adoption, but how they can come across to adoptees themselves.

Characterization of Birth Parents

Adoptive parents seek to communicate the love they feel for their children almost instantaneously. They want to put words around a relationship that was not formed by flesh and blood and to position their kids as part of their family, even if they haven’t been there since birth. I hear parents use lines like“you were born from her tummy, but grew in our hearts.” This idea can oversimplify the relationship adoptees have with their birth parents and adoptive parents; in fact, they pit their roles up against each other. At worst, our language can imply a commodification of the birth mother and create flat characterization of parents who choose adoption for their kids.
After 25 years of wondering about my birth mother, I recently reunited with her and found out more about the reasons behind my adoption—a story I share in a documentary entitled Closure. Despite a common instinct to minimize the role of the birth mother and focus on the love of new, adoptive parents, I learned my birth mother continued to love me and carry concern for me, even after I was placed in foster care. I continued to “grow” in her heart over the years, too; our relationship wasn’t confined to her gestation.

Conflation with God’s Adoption 

When I began working at a faith-based adoption agency, I heard many prospective parents with this rationale: Through Jesus, we were all adopted in to God’s family, so that’s why we are choosing to adopt.
Deanna Doss Shrodes, an adoptee and a licensed minister with the Assemblies of God, addressed this conception of adoption. She wrote, “Saying, ‘So you're adopted? No big deal...we're all adopted!’ minimizes the very real struggle many adoptees go through.” The theological conception of adoption doesn’t fully conflate with our earthly experience as adoptees. Christians can’t identify with or assume they understand the emotional state of adoptees just because their faith also uses the language of adoption.
Yet, I can see how Christians might be motivated by their faith to adopt. The Christian adoption movement has clung tightly to Bible verses like James 1:27: “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.”
As an adoptee, I read this biblical call to be an assertion toward family preservation, rather than an admonishment for Christians to adopt children and support the separation from their first family. (Slowly, more Christians are recognizing some of this nuance and trying to care for orphans through family preservation, or “orphan prevention,” rather than pushing adoption as the first solution.)

Focus on Being ‘Chosen’

In the church, we love to celebrate the language around being chosen and being adopted. I heard one pastor excitedly put it this way: "Adoption means you were chosen. God chose you! God wanted you! Don't walk around feeling rejected. You are adopted."
Amanda Woolston, an adoptee and a psychotherapist, said this word stings. “Chosen for what? To live this life? Why me? Out of all these other hypothetical children? I was the child available. And what's so great about painting a picture of my parents sorting through kids like they're shopping?”
We expect being chosen to be a pinnacle point of acceptance and happiness, but it doesn’t always feel this way for adoptees, whose “happy endings” still put them in a position of internal struggle. The adoptee community has mourned the losses of too many adoptees due to suicide this year, some of these losses stemming from an inability to speak truthfully about their feelings without hurting or betraying their adoptive parents.
I view adoption to be a necessary solution to an unfortunate need. It’s a tragic situation for one family (birthparents) while simultaneously offering great joy for another (adoptive parents). Adoptees sit between the two.
We can recognize the tension of their position, and the role of adoption in our communities, when we listen to adoptees. Their stories grieve and mourn the loss of their first family, celebrate their adoptive family, and everything in between. The complex truth of modern-day adoption reminds me of these words from the Franciscan Benediction:
May God bless us with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships—so that we may live deep within our hearts.
May God bless us with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people—so that we may work for justice, freedom, and peace.
May God bless us with tears to shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger, and war—so that we may reach out our hand to comfort them and to turn their pain into joy.
And may God bless us with enough foolishness to believe that we can make a difference in the world—so that we can do what others claim cannot be done, to bring justice and kindness to all our children and the poor