Saturday, March 26, 2011
A friend of mine who has an adopted daughter related a story to me recently. She was on vacation at a beach, and her daughter , Lizzie, who is from China, was playing with another little girl. They were making sand castles together when the little girl asked Lizzie where her family was. When she pointed out her family, her new friend asked why Lizzie doesn't look like them. Lizzie said proudly, "because I was born in China and my parents were born in America." The little girl responded, with complete innocence and sincerity, "then that means that you are an orphan?" Lizzie, who had never really heard that word before, was momentarily silent. Her mom overheard her say "do you mean was I born from another woman's tummy? I was.." And the conversation drifted, as 6-year old conversations tend to, towards other more pressing topics such as sand-castle assembly.
When my friend told me this story, I wondered to myself about the word "orphan." Why had Lizzie never heard it? Why had I, now that I thought about it, never used that word with my children, 2 of whom are adopted from China. They both were technically "orphans." Meaning, according to Websters, "a child without parents" or "one deprived of advantage or protection." But the word orphan seems to have negative connotations which are unspoken but very real: I think of the musical of my childhood, "Little Orphan Annie" -- a dirty, neglected child living in deplorable conditions (who, however, rises above it all due to her tenacity and optimism). It conjures up images of poverty, victimhood, neglect, abuse, perhaps undesirability. A more recent movie entitled "Orphan" even brings up some uglier cultural ideas about the word: parentless children who are somehow unlovable, depraved, even demonic and set to destroy 'natural' or biological families (its a horror flick, so I am not quite sure how seriously I take the message nor how closely I align myself with the views of many in the adoption community who called for a boycott of this film.) Some from this community also complained to an online thesaurus to remove the synonyms given to the word orphan, such as "waif" and "vagabond."
I think, for me at least, it is sometimes just too painful to think of my children as orphans. To think that they were 'abandoned' or, to use more p.c. terminology, that an "adoption plan" was made for them. To think about what is the very real truth: there was a time they lived in orphan care. That they had no parents. That their birth parents had to make the very painful decision (painful for both them and for my children) to let them go. That there was a time their needs -- emotionally, developmentally, and sometimes physically -- were not met. To remember that there was a time that they weren't sheltered by my love and care.
But they were orphans. And now -- praise God! - they are not. I have said before that adoption, even more poignantly that the arrivals of my birth-children, made me believe in God. I felt something much greater than me, much greater than my agency or China's CC@@, drawing us together. It was a "come to Jesus" moment. And perhaps, they were "saved" from a life of devoid of family care, but I was also equally "saved" -- their little souls brought me a peace I never knew existed. Oh how sentimental I am being, but really: my kids saved me. They gave me faith. They gave me God.
In some ways, I was the orphan. I was lost and now I am found.
I was deprived of advantage and protection. No longer.
And, at many times, I felt unlovable, unwanted, alone. Now I see how untrue that is.
"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." James 1:27 NIV