Okay, I think it's time I talked about the elephant in the room.
Three and a half years ago, my family adopted two kiddos from Ethiopia in Eastern Africa. As a big sister, I have seen in many ways what adoption is really like. Since I'm not even the parent of an adopted child, I don't claim to have all the answers. There are some things I've learned along the way, though, some misconceptions I've noticed, that I want to share with you.
1. Adoption is not simply a decision; it is a calling.
One thing I've read about adoption over and over is that adopting a child can't be about you. It can't be about how it would be good for your kids to have a playmate or how it would be good to finally have a child. It has to be foremost for the Lord, in obeying his call on your life, and it also has to be for the child you are adopting. Now, I want you to understand, I don't claim to be perfect. My family did have hopes and dreams about how these kids would fit into our family, but that wasn't the most important part. God called us to do this, so no matter what happens, we will see it through.
2. If you don't want to know about the pain and suffering in the world, don't adopt.
Sorry, I had to be blunt with this one. Hearing what my little siblings have gone through and seeing the effect of it in their lives has shown me what is really out there. These kids have seen more trouble and pain than some people do in their entire lives. Before adopting, I was your typical naive somewhat-self-centered American Christian teenager. After bringing them home, and while we're still in the middle of this adoption journey, I can see myself changing. When I realize what they have gone through, it puts my petty frustrations in the right perspective.
3. Whether you like it or not, adoption will change you.
Simply put, adoption is hard. But more than that, it is a great teacher. Adoption has taught me so much about unconditional love. Real love, not just warm-fuzzies, but an active love that continues even when the other person fights against it.
I have learned about patience, both being patient with behavior and being patient while waiting on the Lord to see him move.
I have learned about faith, about praying and trusting that even when we can't see it, the Lord is working here.
I have learned what family really means—not just living together, but struggling, working, and praying together. I have learned about grace, mercy, and love that covers over a multitude of sins
4. Adoptive children will have a different mindset than birth children.
When I and the next three of my siblings were born, my parents were teaching us from day one. We learned that lying was bad and obeying was good and that doing what Mommy and Daddy said made God smile. We learned that Mom and Dad can be trusted, that home is a safe place, and that our parents will always love and protect us.
But our two littlest ones did not have this from birth. Many times, they were left to figure it out for themselves. When a child is left to their own devices, and when their world is turned upside down, their inclination is to take care of themselves.
And who wouldn't feel this way? For a child who was not having their needs meet, making sure that they got the essentials of life became a priority. Along with this need to take care of yourself came a need to feel in control. We all feel this way sometimes. When everything is falling apart, we ask God "why?" All we want is to have that job again, to see that person be healed and be able to fix the situation.
So once we understood this difference in mindset, we had to start working on it. How can you teach a child who has struggled to care for themselves that caring for others is more important? How do you teach a child that parents can be trusted when the adults in their life have only let them down?
I think this is one of the biggest struggles. When a child starts exhibiting the right behavior, we automatically assume that their mindset must be in the right place as well. This is not always the case.
Behavior is sometimes easier to change than a frame of thinking.
5. Adoption is full-time ministry.
When I was 10 or 11 years old, I remember my mom asking me why I wanted us to adopt. I replied that I thought it would be a great ministry for our family. My mom told me that it could be a ministry at first, but then they would just be part of our family.
But the truth of it is, adoption is full-time ministry. It is going out into all the world, by bringing the world into your home. It is serving the least of these, by bringing the least of these into your home. It is caring for the widows and orphans, by bringing the orphans into your home.
I know for some families, the adopted child has a fairly easy transition, but for us and for many others, this was not the case. When you enter into the ministry of adoption, you are signing up to love, to care for, to help this child, for as long as it takes. It means listening to their stories and realizing where they are, and then helping them to move past that place. Adoption is serving the Lord in a very tangible way— by caring for his children.