“When we sat down in our seats to embark on the 36-hour journey home from Shanghai to Tampa, that’s when I lost it. Not in a Jack Nicholson in The Shining kind of “losing it,” but enough that my mind finally broke down, my body broke out in the sweats, and emotionally, I affirmed to the world around me – primarily my wife – that I was done.
You see, we had just spent the last 16 days trekking around the nation of China – Beijing, Lanzhou, Guangzhou, and now settling into our runway plane in Shanghai – all for the little girl I held in my arms: Yi Rui, our 19-month old adopted daughter. It was a trip of a lifetime, because never in my wildest dreams growing up as a child did I think I would ever experience a world so foreign to the one I grew up in. Nothing resembled familiarity. The people, the food, the language, the street signs, even the desert terrain in Central China – all of it was strange to me.
Foreign countries aren’t new to me either. I run a parachurch ministry, Man Up and Go, that fights for the fatherless in places like Uganda, Ethiopia, and the Dominican Republic. I feel as comfortable in the Entebbe airport as I do in the Tampa one. I know several dozen Amharic phrases I use to get me around Addis Ababa, and I love practicing my terribly broken Spanish any chance I get. I’ve vacationed in Europe and spent time in Latin America. I am comfortable pretty much anywhere.
But China? China was truly foreign to me. Its ways, customs, language, terrain, food, history, values, worldview – all of them seem strange.
And so, how do you think this 19-month old little girl felt as she had to dramatically, traumatically, and against-her-will be thrust into trusting and being totally dependent upon perfect strangers? To be thrust into the arms of foreigners who didn’t look like her, talk like her, smell like her, or provide any sense of familiarity or comforts of home, regardless of whether or not that home was an orphanage? How would you respond?
You’d survive. You’d manage. You’d cope. That’s exactly what our little Yi Rui did. She slept for what seemed like the first 48 hours as she grieved the loss of her orphanage caregivers. She slept so much that we thought something was potentially wrong with her heart, which had been operated on via open-heart surgery a year earlier. Fortunately for us, she had to eventually eat. Whipped cream gave us the first indication that there may be a smile deep down in her personality, but that didn’t happen until day 4.
Most challenging, however, was that in her trauma, she kept her trust-giving to a minimum, and only extended it to me. I had to hold her everywhere we went, give her every bath, change every diaper, and once she did start eating, feed her at every meal. This was physically taxing on me, but it was even more emotionally taxing on mom, who felt helpless and worthless, despite intellectually understanding that our daughter was just in survival mode.
So when I sat down in my seat in Shanghai, with my daughter glued to my chest, suffocating me with sweat, thinking about the claustrophobia of a 36-hour journey home with no 7th inning mom-relief on the horizon, I had a mental melt down. For the first time since we started the paperwork, the fundraising, the travel, the “hand off” in a Chinese hotel, I didn’t think I could get through it.
And yet now, as well-adjusted as both Jolie Yi Rui and my adopted son from Ethiopia, Asher Terefe, seem to be doing, I have the same thoughts about their futures – how will get through it? How will Jesus prove to them that He loves them? When my daughter is 14, how will she come to grips with abandonment by her biological parents, however noble or good those reasons may have been? When my son is becoming a man at 21, how will he comprehend our decision to bring him into a culture he’s grown up in but to which he has no historical tie? How will they both cope with the brain science and mounting evidences of the disadvantages they have from orphanage living? How will you do it Jesus? How will I do it?
For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. – Romans 8:15-17
How will I do it? Because Christ has given me the Spirit of adoption by which I, and prayerfully my children, cry out “Daddy…you’re my only hope.”
How my wife do it? Because the Spirit of Christ in her life proves He’s adopted her, and prayerfully our children, making us sons and daughters.
How will our family do it? Because the sufferings we choose to endure through physical adoption – both adoptive parent and adopted son or daughter – somehow qualify us to be heirs of a glorious inheritance with Christ.
Yes, adoption, in some mysterious but glorious way, mirrors the picture of what Christ did for us when we were aliens in a strange world, far from home, and far from Him. That is a mirror worth reflecting.”