January 18, 2013

Why Many Adoptees Kiss God & the Church Goodbye (And Why I Didn't)

Some adoptees turn to God.

It seems many more turn away from God.

I get why.

I have served as a pastor for 25 years. And yet, even as a vocational minister, I understand the rationale that brings many adoptees to the place where they want nothing to do with God. Between questioning what kind of "God" could possibly plan or allow their relinquishment and adoption, to the cruel responses they get from Christians concerning their feelings about adoption or their search for their original family, their exodus from God and the church is not a mystery.

It is common for adoptees to receive messages from religious people throughout our lives:

"God planned you, as a gift to your adoptive parents."

"You are a special child...chosen by God to be adopted."

"Your adoption was ordained by God..."

"God knew all this and had a plan worked out for you to be with your adoptive parents..."

When adoptees struggle with post adoption issues and try to come to grips with the significant losses that have occurred in our lives, who do we blame? Of course it's only natural to pin the blame on God, since after all, everyone's been pointing to him as the mastermind of our adoptions for as long as we can remember.

I'm going to tell you right up front what the purpose of my post is today.
It's not to shove my beliefs down your throat.
It's not to tell you what to think or how to feel. (God knows, adoptees don't need someone else trying to do that.) 

What I am going to do is tell you my experience, how I've come to believe what I do, and then give you opportunity to just think about it.

There's much I could share about my relinquishment, adoption and reunion. Today I'm going to give a Cliff Notes version of my spiritual formation and how it impacts those things.

The backstory

 I am a classic case from the Baby Scoop Era. After relinquishment I was adopted into a Christian home. In fact my adoptive parents were both church leaders. My adoptive grandmother was also a great influence on my life. She lived directly across the street from our home and often took care of me. Once I started kindergarten, she was my caretaker each day before and after school.

Ours wasn't a perfect home. Like many adoptees, I was adopted into a dysfunctional home. Yes, even Christian homes are sometimes dysfunctional.  I used to wonder how that was even  possible. But then I read the Bible and noticed there were a lot more Kardashians and Osbornes than Huxtables and Cleavers.

The end result was, my adoptive home ended up crumbling in divorce. It's another story for another day but suffice it to say, I thought I would die when we went through that.

Although my adoptive home had problems, it did not negate my personal experience with God. I probably learned the most about Him through my adoptive grandmother and through the ministries of my home church where I grew up in Baltimore, Maryland. We were there every time the doors were open and even when they weren't. Even when services weren't going on we were serving in some capacity. Our church wasn't perfect, no church is. I always say, "If you find a perfect church, don't go to it! You'll ruin it!" The reason I say this is, none of us are perfect.  :)

Me, standing on the pews at church ~ 1967

I saw. I heard. I experienced.

I felt God's presence and power.
I witnessed the change He could make in someone's life, if only they would make that choice.

As a small child, I often fell asleep under a church pew during nightly revival meetings,  covered by one of the altar cloths as service went on late into the night. Sometimes I'd wake up and see a miracle in someone's life taking place right in front of my eyes. (My family was fond of sitting on the first or second row.) I saw physical healings take place.

Suffice it to say these are the things one doesn't forget.
I knew God was real.

How did I learn?

Most of what I know about God was not learned while in college preparing for full time ministry. My spiritual formation as well as my personal relationship with God was primarily developed through Sunday School and children's church. My grandmother was also my Sunday School teacher for quite a number of years. There I learned and memorized many scriptures, among them ones that explained that God gives people a free will to make choices for themselves. As we do not live in a vacuum, those choices often affect others.

What does it mean to be free? Freedom is not possible without free will.

I love the way C.S. Lewis explains free will:

 "Free will is what has made evil possible. Why, then, did God give people free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. A world of automata -of creatures that worked like machines- would hardly be worth creating. The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other..." 

When human beings exercise the free will God gave them, making certain choices, that doesn't mean God has to like it. Some assume God is always happy. He is God - He can do whatever He wants, so of course He is happy all the time.

Not true.

Sometimes God is grieved.

Sometimes God is repulsed.

Sometimes God cries.

How do we know what God is unhappy about?

Notice whatever Jesus was unhappy about and you will know what God isn't happy about. The emotions Jesus showed when He walked the earth are an indicator to us about what bothers God. Scripture says that Jesus and the Father are one.  We can look at the emotions of Jesus as recorded in scripture and know what touches the heart of God.

Jesus got really ticked off at hypocrisy.
He got angry at the inappropriate things going on in the temple and turned over the tables.
He cried at the suffering of the world.
He wept at the death of Lazarus. Xanax did not exist. He had to just do a miracle and raise him from the dead so he wouldn't keep walking around crying.

He was sad when He couldn't do miracles due to a lack of faith on the part of people in a certain region.

Jesus was not walking around all happy clappy about everything.

Neither is God.

So. That brings us to adoption.

I have been in close relationship with Him (not religion, relationship -- there's a huge difference)  since I was a child. That doesn't mean I've never doubted or strayed. I am really not a Pentecostal Mother Teresa, even though my mother-in-law thinks I am.

Of course I've messed up at times, lots of times in fact.  Sadly, there are times I've known God wanted me to do one thing, and I did another. Plenty of times I knew the right thing, yet I exercised my will, and did the wrong thing. He is not to blame for my actions. And I know I've hurt others by my choices. I've needed buckets full of His grace, just like anyone.

Here's what a relationship with God means for me.
Early on,  I experienced Him as a best friend, someone I could take everything to.
I started talking to God and listening for Him to talk back to me.

And He did.

Even the thoughts in my head about my adoption.
The things I could not speak aloud.

God has never spoken to me in an audible voice. I've only known one person in my life who ever said He talked to them like that. They also believe they saw Elvis at a Denny's in Knoxville. He talks to me in a still small voice in my heart, just like He did with Elijah.

God never told me He planned my adoption. 
God never told me to just give thanks to Him and move on.
I never heard any of that from Him.


What would Jesus do if He were to walk into an adoption agency today? Some of the employees better have their desks nailed down.

My friends, this is this Jesus that I know.

 He isn't the one that stocked the a-parents homes with teddy bears, unicorns and rainbows.

What did God say to me about my adoption?

Every time another wave of post-adoption issues, (particularly abandonment, rejection and depression) came like a flood, He said, "I understand why you feel this way. Hold tight to me...you're going to get through this with my help."

When my adoptive parents divorce happened, He said, "I hate this too. This totally sucks."

And we just sat together and talked about it. A lot.

When I entered reunion and I was scared out of my mind all over again, He said, "I've told you so many times that when the time came you wouldn't do it alone. You don't have to do anything alone."

When I said, "I'm scared. Who else might leave?" He said, "I can't lie to you. It's possible that others will choose to leave, but I have never left you and I never will, not for a moment."

When I arrived at to my original mom's house totally unannounced for the very first time, and had no idea what I was going to say to her, He said, "Don't worry. I'm going to give you every word you need to speak, at the moment you need it, just like I always have."

When I walked up to her door, knees like Jello, legs numb and ready to go out from under me, I  felt another power other than my own envelope me. It carried me, moving me toward her door. It held me up while I waited for her to open the door. It braced me as I looked into her face for the first time as an adult.  It cradled me there until our mutual gaze that seemed to last forever was broken, and she finally said, "come in."

And then, I exhaled.

I felt His presence guiding me, resting upon me as we walked to the small wooden table in the corner of the kitchen and sat down. 

Folding my hands on my lap, I gently and inconspicuously rubbed my fingers together as is my habit when out of my element, unsure of what's next. Regardless, it was a given to me that there were more than two present in the room that day. It was never just my natural mother and me. 

This is the God that I know.

The God I know said, "I understand. People's choices hurt me too, sometimes. A lot."

The God I know said, "Stop trying to bear all this by yourself. That's what I'm here for."

The God I know cried with me.