November 2020 finds us finishing a tense election season and planning our pandemic Thanksgiving celebrations. Each year in November, our family also recognizes National Adoption Awareness Month (NAAM) as we are a family because of adoption. There are about 2 million adopted persons in the US, so chances are high that you know some. About 15% of adoptions are transracial, in which families are made of parents and children from different races. Adoption is beautiful, normal, and full of loss all at the same time.
Here are several adoption-informed ideas from our family and “church family” to yours, as you head into this Advent season and beyond:
- Replace your language around charitable events. Instead of “adopt a family”, consider using “sponsor a family,” “support a family,” or “back a family.” They use the same idea but give a wider context.
- Biblical texts use adoption references. Lean into it! Romans 8:15-17 gives us a great starting place: “For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.” Esther’s story as well as Ruth & Naomi give us helpful language around adoption.
- Celebrate adoption but recognize the grief and loss that is in each adoptive family as well. This may be incorporated in some way into Longest Night or Blue Christmas services. It is okay to recognize those people who aren’t present when celebrating a baptism or wedding, or presiding at a funeral. Biological or first parents and grandparents may be longed-for additions to these celebrations. Adopted folks are certainly already thinking about that. You bringing it up won’t remind them. If you are uncertain about how to proceed, please ask.
- My family has realized over the past few years that we don’t see many images of families that look like us in main stream media. Often there are not a lot of families that look like ours in the American church setting, either. Your church can use images of real transracial or interracial families on your print and web-based media.
Racism in the US has become more pronounced and blatant these past few years, which can bring up that many more issues for adopted persons. I hear one of my Black immigrant children ask, “So, now after the election, will I be safe? They won’t make me go back to my first country? Right, Mom?” As parents, my spouse and I reassure them as well as tell the truth. “We’ve done everything we need to and you’re a US citizen. You belong here. Still, I hear you’re scared. I would be too! We will do whatever, however, whenever we can to make you feel safe.”
I find others’ eyes fixated on my kids. It is a mix of fascination and fear of people from the dominant group, whose eyes land and stay on those they consider exotic or completely outside the norm. Black is not outside the norm. Brown is not outside the norm. It is part of the norm. We can faithfully affirm this in our churches.
The life we live, however, is not a “one and done” event. It is new every morning. We deal with loss, grief, racism and fears. So, I prefer to use baptism language, since the promises we make in baptism stay strong our whole life through. Whenever we join the family, God gives us a big, wet sloppy kiss and says, “Welcome to the family!” That is adoption. It is a life full of ups and downs, together. It is a life full of, well, life.