This post concludes Shannon Dingle’s blog series on Adoption and the Church. In addition to serving as a Key Ministry Church Consultant, Shannon is a co-founder of the Access Ministry at Providence Baptist Church in Raleigh, NC. Her series can be accessed in its’ entirety through this link. Here’s Shannon…
I love adoption. You don’t become the mother to six children, four by adoption, without loving kids and loving adoption.
I think sometimes when we celebrate adoption, when we observe Orphan Sunday in our churches, and when we make glossy brochures or memes based on our children or families, we fail to acknowledge that any beauty is born from loss or pain. I cringe when people talk about our adoptions as some great thing that Lee and I have done for the children in my home. I cringe because no one talks about my two childbirths, both of which were challenging at the end of difficult pregnancies in which my body was stretched literally and figuratively far beyond what I ever thought it could be, no one says anything about what a great thing I have done with our first two children in making that sacrifice.
That’s because it’s what we do as parents. We sacrifice, both in adoption and in birth.
We sacrifice for our kids as we lay down our lives for them. And, especially when they are new to our family and demanding and reeling from the realities of life, be that as a newborn or as a newly adopted teenager or as a foster child just dropped off for the night, they don’t show a whole lot of gratitude. And? Please hear this next part: We don’t and shouldn’t expect them to.
Please, church leaders and friends, be careful how you portray adoption and foster care. Especially in front of my children, who – like most kids – don’t want to be singled out as different or as being or having been needy at some point in their lives. Especially to other people in our church who while well intentioned might not be prepared or equipped to say yes to adoption or foster care, maybe not ever or maybe just not yet. Especially when so many Christian messages imply or outright present adoptive parents as the savior when we have only one Savior (and it’s not us).
It doesn’t help my children to be, from the pulpit or in the hallway at church or anywhere in between, frequently reminded that some people view them as a charity case. Because while some of my children were once legally classified as orphans, they’re not orphans anymore. They’re kids, simple as that.
And it doesn’t help the rest of the church to be faced again and again with the romanticized version of adoption. It would be disrespectful to my children to share all of them details of the battles we have fought behind closed doors and on our knees to present the happy, well-adjusted, sweet family of eight our church body sees walking through the doors and filling an entire row in the worship center. None of this is for the faint of heart.
So might I suggest something? Might I suggest that we begin to preach about adoption in the same way that we preach about marriage? We tend to talk about marriage as this beautiful thing, this covenant commitment before God, this institution that needs to be safeguarded. To that end, we require pre-marital counseling, we examine or at least mention the reality that many marriages do end in divorce, and we talk openly about how hard marriage can be. As we balance the beauty and the hard, we stress the importance of marriage. We don’t worry that our messages will scare people aware, because we know we speak the truth and we believe there are great rewards in the midst of great difficulties in marriage.
Why not do the same with adoption and foster care? When we say yes as a church to caring about vulnerable children and families, let’s also say yes to talking about related challenges too. As we address the topic of divorce before couples say “I do,” maybe we should proactively address to topics of disruption and dissolution of adoptions before families step forward to that covenant commitment. Just as we share the realities that marriage requires much work during some seasons of life, or all seasons of life, could we also affirm that parenting through adoption or foster care requires a lot of us too?
It’s easy, relatively speaking, to host Orphan Sunday at your church. It’s harder to say yes to children from hard places the other 51 Sundays of the year, plus an occasional week for Vacation Bible School and other days here and there. It’s harder to say yes if you come to the realization that one special needs ministry coordinator did, as shared on my friend John Knight’s blog: “At Bethlehem we have a disproportionately high number of the last three [fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, and reactive attachment disorder] mostly because of so many adopted children in our church body.”
I love adoption. And, if you’re reading this, I’m guessing you do too.
Let’s show it by loving even when it requires us to change and even when it isn’t picture perfect for some glossy advert and even when the broken is looming bigger than the beauty.
In other words, let’s love like Christ loves.
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