I was adopted at birth. And it’s funny, I can’t remember a time when my adopted parents sat me down and told me I was adopted. I just always knew. It could have been the fact that I knew I didn’t look like them, or maybe it was the fact that they called me their “Mexican baby” — my biological father is Mexican and in one of my baby photos I’m wearing a sombrero draped in a poncho.
Regardless of how or when I learned that the people I called mom in dad were in fact not my biological mother and father, I always felt loved, accepted, and like I belonged. While I’m sure like all parents they wished they could have done things differently, I think I turned out alright.
I can’t imagine what a tough job it must be to be a parent. And even harder than the day-to-day roles of parenting for adopted parents comes the emotional weight of conversations they inevitably have to have with their children about their adoption.
From what I can remember, my parents always did a great job of explaining the circumstances around my adoption. The things I remember them saying the most were, “you were a gift to us — we were given the gift of being your mom and dad and to call you our son.” In a way they almost instilled a sense of pride in me over everything. They chose me. They wanted to be my parents. They loved me so much that they called me their own. For the most part I didn’t ask too many questions or have a care about what it all meant — I knew I was loved and knew I had wonderful parents. I probably didn’t understand exactly what adoption meant, but as a child I don’t think you can fully comprehend what it all means anyway.
All of that changed dramatically when I was 6. I was playing with some of the kids in my neighborhood and the issue of me being adopted somehow came into the conversation. Our neighborhood bully Adam [every neighborhood has one] piped up and said, “Well if you’re adopted that means you were an orphan and that means your parents must have gotten you from an orphanage.”
Adoption may have been a confusing topic for me to understand, but one thing I did understand is what it meant to be an orphan. One of my favorite movies as a kid was the movie Annie. [Yes, that explains a lot about me. Anyway...] I knew exactly what an orphan was because Annie was an orphan. Her parents left her in the hands of the evil Miss Hannigan at an orphanage that was more like a prison for children. They were unloved, forgotten, poor, and didn’t have a mom or dad.
I remember running home heartbroken with crocodile tears streaming down my face. Those few words you were an orphan had completely shattered the happy picture I had in my mind about where I had come from and who my family was. I ran inside our house and ran to my mother sobbing and asked her, “What orphanage did you get me from? Where are my real mom and dad?”
I am sure those words crushed her as much as the idea of being an orphan had crushed me. I really don’t remember the extent of our conversation beyond that, but I do know what I learned from that experience and what I’ve learned about my life and relationship with God since then.
When I knew I was adopted, I didn’t have to worry. I knew I was loved. I knew I had a home. I was accepted and loved. I had everything I needed provided for me. I felt like I belonged. I had a place. I had an identity that was not my own that was given to me. I was blessed. I knew I could look forward to the next day with hope because I had a mom and dad that loved me.
The minute I thought I was an orphan everything changed. I felt as though I had been left behind or forgotten, discarded by my real mom and dad. I felt like I had to earn love and acceptance. I felt as though I didn’t have anything. And worse, I didn’t feel as though I had a sense of identity or purpose.
If you think about it, though, we’ve all been orphans at some point. Whether you choose to embrace the idea of faith and the fact that God, through His Son Jesus, has brought us into His family, we have all had to wrestle with our origins and our sense of self-worth.
The orphaned mindset says we are unloved, forgotten, rejected, have no sense of identity or purpose. The orphan believes they have to earn love and acceptance.
The adopted mindset knows what it means to be loved, embraced, accepted, and has a strong sense of identity and purpose. Adopted children live their lives from a place of being loved and accepted.
Whatever mindset we choose to embrace has a drastic impact on our lives and our journeys. It colors the way we view the world and more importantly, ourselves. Thankfully, for me, both through the love of my adopted parents and the experience I’ve had with my faith, I know what joy comes from being adopted. I know I have been chosen and that I can live from an understanding of being loved and accepted as I am.
In the years since that fateful afternoon when my world came crashing down, I’ve come to know and have a relationship with my biological family. My adopted parents had maintained connection with my biological parents and I met them for the first time three days before my 9th birthday, and I’ve continued to have a relationship with them and my biological siblings. That relationship and experience hasn’t been without it’s complications and challenges, but I do feel as if I do have two families now. One by birth, one by choice, but both have shown me what selfless love looks like and I understand what a true gift I have been given to be adopted. And, I’ve experienced the joy of my [adopted] brother and his wife adopting four children — each time I’m reminded of the wonderful gift our parents gave to me and it’s wonderful to see them doing the same to their four amazing children.
I’m not an orphan. I am a son.
And you are all sons and daughters, too.
We’ve all been loved beyond what we can imagine.
We have a purpose. We have a future.
We belong. We matter.
I love the word of Jesus to His disciples in John 15:16 — You didn’t choose me. I chose you.
Let’s all live life from an understanding that we’ve been chosen by someone and something greater.
We’re no longer orphans — we’ve all been adopted.
We can rest in the love and acceptance we didn’t earn but that have been freely given to us.
We can live knowing that our lives do matter.