More than a mission trip

In my dream, I am a missionary. I live in an African hut with many Ugandan children calling out "mommy" and reaching their hands up towards me. Much like a page from the KISSES FROM KATIE story, I serve the needs of the people around me 24/7 without grumbling or complaint, simply with gratitude for being in the right place at the right time. The sick, the lonely, the hungry and frail come to me to act on their behalf, as the hands and feet of Jesus in their lives. Its a beautiful dream.

If you have ever been on a missions trip you too have tasted a piece of my beautiful dream. You have made the effort to step out of your comfort zone and go to a place so different from anything you have ever experienced before. You have paused your life temporarily to go and meet the needs of others. You are focused completely on the "other" and spend your days doing anything necessary for people to experience Jesus' in whatever form He chooses to be seen. You work tirelessly and joyfully, no matter the cost, because "they" are worth it.

I have been on a few trips like these myself and I recall that in conversations leading up to the one's I've taken, people tend to perceive goers as heroes of sorts. What an "admirable" thing you are doing, how "selfless" you are, and praise God you have the faith to make such a "sacrificial" decision, are just some of the things they might say. Whether we admit it or not, we often take those things in and start to believe them. We chalk the trip up to the "faith with deeds" category of our spiritual lives and start to feel proud of ourselves. We travel and serve with a sense of "us" coming to help "them" and that makes us feel good.

Typically we walk away from missions trip moments burdened by the tension between gratitude for being there and a desire to do more. But leave we must. The mission trip is over. So we return home, to our lives, to our families, and to our comfort zones just as they were before.

While it's not healthy to walk through a mission trip scenario with attitudes and mindsets such as these, it is downright dangerous to carry them over into the area of adoption. One of the biggest hurdles in adoption is defining and recognizing expectations: of the process, of the child and of the family.

For example: the last thing families need to be told during their journey is they are heroic or some breed of "Super Christian" for adopting. Statements like these set parents up on a pedestal they are sure to fall from. When they do fall, they become buried under a pile of guilt for not living up to those expectations. There is nothing commanded of adoptive families that isn't expected from all Christ-followers:
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
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways, submit to Him and He will make your paths straight. - Proverbs 3:5-6
[Please do not misinterpret what I am saying here: I do NOT think every Christian is called to adopt. I DO believe every Christian is called to "look after orphans and widows in their distress." What that looks like is based on personal revelation.]

Seeing parents as spiritual heroes for becoming an adoptive family insinuates they have achieved this role through extraordinary faith. Honestly, adopting parents feel more like they are border-lining insanity more than the sainthood others are projecting toward them. People who adopt are simply trusting that what God told them to do on behalf of the orphan is something He will provide the faith for in the follow through. That doesn't make them special just obedient. Every Christian has their opportunities to choose trust over understanding and ability- what they do and where that takes them are what varies.

When our thoughts portray parents who adopt as heroes, we also transpose the expectation of gratefulness on behalf of the child. We assume the former orphan will be busting with "Thank Yous" and "I love yous" when they are placed in a family but that's not always the case. In fact, its rarely the case at all which can lead to another post-adoption let down. Children that have been adopted, no matter what age, experience a huge amount of loss. Everything they know, would have known, experiences they had or would have, a culture and people they were a part of are now gone. We must understand the story of a child from hard places doesn't begin at adoption no more than my life began when I got married- I changed my last name, was grafted into a new family etc. There is an even longer story to who I am that began long before the day I became a Gaddis and the same is true for my daughter.

Another way the missions trip mind set can injure adoptive families is believing that "we" are coming to help "them." Just the fact the people involved are separated into different categories is toxic. I've heard it said before, "The ground at the foot of the cross is level" and I believe it means no one is better than another. No matter the circumstances, Jesus sees us all as equals. With words like "rescue", "save"and "spare" attached to adoption, we imply that humans have taken on a messiah-like role in a child's life. But the Truth is, God alone is the Redeemer and Restorer of life. I did not rescue my daughter- Jesus rescued us both through the cross!

Taking time away from your life for a mission trip is a great way to shift your focus from self to others temporarily. Adoption is more like a merging of those two realities. Its similar to when The Biggest Loser contestants return home after being on "The Ranch" for a long period of time and they can't establish a balance between their weight loss goals and their real life. Adoptive families train themselves up with a lot of head knowledge on how to intentionally parent children from hard places. We typically have the tools in our belt long before we ever have to use them. In my case we made the trip to Africa and were able to implement those learnings right away. A month or so later we returned to the U.S. and the rest of our "comfortable" life. That's when the tension I mentioned before sets in: grateful for the time, wishing we could do more, but the mission trip is over.

It is tremendously difficult to continue to focus on the intentional parenting techniques and making the time/ having the energy to enter into the distress of a child while also being fully present to other kids in the home, a spouse, a job, maintaining the home, going to DR appointments etc etc etc. Adoptive families struggle to zero in on the newly home child as the only need when life is pulling them in many directions.

We cannot continue to have a mission trip mentality when approaching adoption. Its a journey, a process, a marathon if you will. Yet sometimes those expectations, standards, attitudes and phrasings creep into adoption and cause more harm than help to families.

My dream is beautiful but in reality I am a mom. I live in a southern american style home with three children calling out "mommy" and reaching their hands up towards me. Much like a page from the Bible, I am trying my best to serve the needs of the people around me 24/7, sometimes grumbling but always grateful when I occasionally find myself in the right place at the right time. The sick, the lonely, the hungry and frail little ones that bear my last name come to me to act on their behalf, as the hands and feet of Jesus in their lives. Its a beautiful reality.


Becky Ryder said...

Well said!! Can you post this on the UG adoption board, hehe?!

Natasha said...

Every person in the world needs to read this! So many thoughts after reading this as it's so true in our family too. Thank you and let's get sharing this blog :)