Aaron Ivey speaks on adoption
This is a three part series called Adopted. There are three things to learn from this series.
• The glorious truth that those of us who are in Christ Jesus have been adopted into the family of God.
• Our response to this glorious truth.
• The great cost in reflecting this adoptive love of God.
The final part of the series we’re going to look at how much engaging the orphan is actually going to cost us. Yes, it will cost us.
I’ve been the worship pastor at The Austin Stone Community Church for four years. It’s been one of the kindest things the Lord has done. We love this church and this city. My wife Jamie and I have been married for twelve years and we have four kids.
Our eight-year-old son is named Kayden. He is our one biological child. Our boy Deacon is six years old and we adopted him domestically from San Antonio, Texas at his birth. Story is our sassy girl. She came home to us in 2009 from Haiti. We brought Amos, who is seven years old, home from Haiti in 2010.
Amos and Story are both from the same village right outside Port au Prince. They come from a place where death and suffering are woven into daily routine. In this village, half of the kids die before their fifth birthday. Half of them.
Five years ago, we stumbled upon a picture of Amos on a blog. He was severely malnourished, abused, abandoned and didn’t know if he was going to survive the night. The blog said this:
We are trying to save this boy’s life; he has an impossible road ahead. Please pray. If you know anyone that would consider adopting him, please let us know.
I was sitting on my nice comfortable couch, in my air-conditioned house. My fridge was stocked full of organic vegetables and almond milk. My kids were sleeping in their cozy warm beds. I was seeing the stark contrast between his life and my kids’ lives. To think just a few hour plane ride away, slept this little boy, starved, abandoned and fatherless.
I felt God saying, “Aaron, this is your boy. Pursue him like I’ve pursued you.”
This set us on a brutal three year journey. Years of legal red tape, through corruption in the Haitian government, through hurricanes and eventually the massive earthquake in 2010.
God literally moved heaven and earth to bring our boy Amos home to us, just nine days after the earthquake.
The journey was excruciating and costly, but it shaped us in such profound ways.
The Glamorous Incomplete View
There is a blissful ignorance that comes with being newly wed. Everything is perfect and right. You live in an apartment filled with free stuff that people gave you. There aren’t crayon marks on the walls yet. The couch doesn’t smell like baby puke. Everything is unrealistically perfect. Our first year of marriage was just like this. Then we had this crazy, stupid idea. Let’s destroy everything that is perfect and mess it all up. Let’s go get a dog, because that is what married people are supposed to do.
Our masterful plan was an eighty-five pound, short, brown haired dog. Probably of the Labrador retriever breed. We had it all planned out.
A few days later, we’re walking through the Galleria in Houston. It was “Doggy Rescue Day” and apparently the day we were going to find the perfect dog. The guy announces the last dog, a shriveled up, wiry haired, shaking, ugliest excuse for a five-pound mammal I’ve ever seen. We trekked over to the table and I said the dog was the dog of our dreams and we’d take it right away. The announcer put the dog in our arms and announced us as the proud new owners. We felt like rock stars.
Seven days later, our home is filled with peeing, gnawing, barking, shaking and ugliness. We look at the busted dog and asked ourselves, “How did we get here? Where is the crowd that was cheering for us?”
This story of rescuing a cute little puppy is radically different than the adoption we’ve been talking about for weeks. I think some of the confusion we feel when we talk about adoption is because our culture distorts adoption by giving us this over glamorized view of rescuing a cute little kid.
We see flashy stories of superstars adopting. We see real life stories and they move us, appropriately and deeply. The applause and heroism is so appealing and compelling that it’s easy to get caught in the rush of epicness. Who doesn’t want to save someone’s life? Who doesn’t want to be a part of that?
Rescuing the orphan is crucial. There is a necessary saving act in our spiritual adoption as well as orphan care in the world.
There are 147 million orphans in the world. That means there are 147 million individual stories of kids that need to be rescued. Right now, there are girls in neighboring countries that are on the brink of death because of abandonment and malnutrition. These girls need to be rescued. Just across the ocean there are little boys that are being sold into all forms of slavery. Those boys need to be rescued. In our own city, kids are looking out of a window, scared to death because their father chose a posture of violence towards them instead of a posture of love. They need to be rescued.
A few miles away, birth moms are choosing to give life through adoption instead of ending life. Those babies need to be rescued.
But we need to take it one step further from just rescuing and being moved to rescue them.
Dr. Moore wrote a book about adoption, Adopted For Life. He writes this:
The universe is at war and babies and children are on the line. The old serpent is coiled right now, his tongue flickering, watching for children he can consume. The protection of children is not charity, it is spiritual warfare.
Orphan care is spiritual warfare.
None of us can find examples of warfare being sexy or glamorous. Viewing orphan care just through the lens of rescuing them is not the full picture.
To Adoptive Parents: When the applause and rush of adoption fades, you’re left parenting a child that’s been neglected and wounded in such profound ways that you’re saving him or her is not going to be enough.
To Foster Care & Missional Communities: When the thrill of orphan care fades, you’re left caring for a child that doesn’t know how to reciprocate your love. So rescuing them is not going to give you enough reason to endure with them.
That’s why the call of orphan care is not a call to simply save the orphan. The call of orphan is to share in the suffering of the orphan. It’s to intentionally position yourself and your family and your community to suffer alongside the orphan. It’s you saying, “Your suffering is now my suffering. Your story is now my story. I willingly position myself to suffer alongside you.”
That is radically different than simply rescuing.
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!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God. Romans 8:1516 (ESV)
This is amazing news. God took us in, called us heirs and called us His own. Jesus suffered on the cross; He defeated sin, that we could become sons and daughters. But look at what is said next.
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 8:17 (ESV)
We are children. We are heirs. We are called to suffer with Him. We need to do two things:
• We need to understand that He suffered.
• We need to suffer with Him.
Suffer with Him
Following Jesus is a call to suffer as He suffered. In order to suffer with Him, we need to know how He suffered.
There are three ways that Jesus suffered:
• Jesus, who was fully God, suffered as He was born into flesh forever.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14 (ESV)
God wrapped Himself in flesh, lived and dwelt among us. He wrapped Himself in human flesh eternally. When Jesus bound Himself with us forever, He didn’t resurrect as some cosmic being. He resurrected as a human.
The skin that He wrapped himself in will be scarred forever. We will see the nail prints in His hands one day. We’ll see the scars that He took for us.
To suffer with Him and to suffer as He suffered means to share in the suffering of the orphan with the same sense of longevity; in the flesh with no end.
Jamie and I do some Pre-Marital Counseling. One of the ways we frame marriage is by explaining that it’s the most brutal thing to ever sign up for. You will lose your life. We say this, because it’s important to know that marriage is sacred. When you step into it, there’s no option to end it. So the fleeting thought of divorce has to be gone.
Suffering alongside the orphan has the same level of unbreakable commitment. To the orphan, the commitment must be to suffer with them no matter what.
Attachment disorder is a very real issue in homes with adoptive children. When most kids come into the world, they get the things that help kids attach and build bonds. They have physical contact, eye contact. When they cry, you pick them up and comfort them. So they bond and trust you as a father or mother. A lot of kids that come from adoption or foster care grew up in a place where they missed out on several years of this. So they really struggle with the issue of not knowing how to attach themselves and trust you as a parent. They don’t how to bond with you.
The natural self defense mechanism for a wounded a broken heart is to push away anything or anybody that would ever try to attach to it just because they don’t want to feel broken or disappointed. So they push away.
Amos’ way of pushing back is to say really tough things to hear. After the first couple of days after we brought him home, he was pushing away. He would stand and revolt and yell. He would scream, “I don’t love you. I wish you never adopted me. I wish I were back in Haiti. You’re not my real mom and dad.” We would be crushed by those words.
That’s not what we signed up for. We thought they’d be grateful. That’s what we expected.
But he has a broken, wounded heart that needs to be repaired. So my call to suffer alongside him, sounds like this, “I’m in this with you for the long term. The option of me bailing on you is not an option. I’m in the flesh with you and that has no end.”
• The crucifixion was Jesus’ invitation to be wronged.
He was offering us an invitation to wrong Him, to wound Him. He could have stopped it. But He willingly put Himself in the position and invited us to wrong Him.
The way the Roman guards treated Jesus was wrong. The way the crowd pronounced Him guilty was wrong. The thorns, scourging, piercing, and the blood...it was all wrong. But we were still invited to wrong Jesus, because only in Him taking our wrongs could we ever be made right.
The orphan feels wronged. There were people in Amos and Story’s lives that were supposed to take care of them. They were supposed to provide for them, nurture them, give them food and love. However, those people, for whatever reason, could not provide those things for them. So my children will deal with an intense, unconscious feeling of being wronged for a very long time, possibly the rest of their lives.
My suffering with them is saying, “Son, daughter, I invite you in, to wrong me. I invite you in, to say you don’t love me. I invite you in, to say you don’t want anything to do with me”. My suffering is to say that I am willing to experience all of your fears and scars and I’m willing to let you wrong me.
In doing this, I’m doing two things:
• I’m showing them how much I love them.
• I’m showing them the way of Jesus.
Do we teach our kids to respect their parents? Absolutely. Do we discipline when we need to? Of course, any good parent would. But we remember our call to orphan care is an excruciating, willing invitation to be wronged in all the ways that they’ve been wronged as an orphan.
• Jesus suffered by losing what He had so that we could gain what we didn’t have, a Father.
Jesus lost His father on the cross.
And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Mark 15:34 (ESV)
Jesus was on the cross in agony, crying about God for forsaking Him. The Father turned away, not in anger toward His son, but in anger and sorrow for all the sin in the world that was being placed on Jesus. When He did that, Jesus was completely alone, abandoned. In that moment, Jesus lost oneness with the Father, so that you and I could gain oneness with the Father.
For those of us who suffer alongside the orphan, it means loss. It means losing the image of the ideal family. Losing the image of ideal child.
Jamie and I realize that before adoption, our lives were easier. Our house was easier. We didn’t feel the weight of the orphan crisis before we adopted.
Before adoption, we had an ideal picture of what our family should look like.
One of the costs of adoption is your total loss of the ideal family. Those dreams of picture perfect kids that you’ve been dreaming about have to die. That is the price to be paid so that the orphan who has been dreaming of the ideal perfect father can gain that father.
Jesus suffered by losing what he had so that we could gain what we did not have. To suffer alongside the orphan means we lose what we have, all the ideal expectations, so that they can have what they don’t have, a family.
To truly love anyone requires sacrifice. The implication is that we adopt, we care for the orphan, we foster with eyes wide open. These relationships will be difficult and will bring pain. We embrace it, because it’s the grace of God that is sufficient.
Dr Moore says:
There is more joy in walking with God through fire than walking on beaches without him.
Our dreams of the beachy family photo of perfection have to die. These are the three crucial ways that Jesus suffered to adopt us into the family of God.
We have to mirror those as we engage in orphan care.
We are ALL called to engage in orphan care.
Most Common Hindrances:
• “I could never afford adoption or foster care.”
Very few of us actually can on our own. They are both expensive. It can cost more than an annual income. Surely adoption must be only for the wealthy then. Not true.
The average cost of parenting a child from birth to college is $250k. We don’t base our decision on becoming parents on whether or not we have that kind of money in the bank. We do it because it’s a priority, or a surprise and families adjust to make it happen.
It’s the same way for adoption and foster care. We adjust. We get creative.
When God calls you to adopt, He will provide the resources to accomplish that calling.
• “What about race? What if my family has an issue with us adopting a child from another race?”
We live in a legacy of racial tension and bigotry. It’s easy for the white, American majority to speak of a colorblind nation. But we are not color blind. We’re only sixty years past segregated water fountains and schoolhouses. We can’t underestimate the fact that racial tension still exists. Raising children in trans-racial families brings with it a lot of complexity.
But, discouraging trans-racial adoption in any shape or form is counter Gospel.
As Christians, we can’t look negatively at trans-racial adoption. We can’t give ear or validity to a rejection of trans-racial adoption. No matter how loudly that rejection comes, even if it’s from our own family.
Remember, the Gospel moves us away from finding our identity in the flesh or its color and moves us toward finding our identity in Jesus. Where we belong, in Him and Him alone.
But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. Philippians 3:20-12 (ESV)
The hesitancy about adopting trans-racially reminds us that we still don’t believe the Gospel. We still don’t believe the Gospel includes every tribe, tongue and nation and color.
If you’re unsure if you could love a child with a different shade of skin or heritage, the first step for you must be repentance.
If your parents or grandparents ever rejected one of your biological kids because they were born with a disability, you would not stand for it. You would rebuke them. You wouldn’t reject your child.
To love you is to love my child.
If they can’t love your child, then they can’t love you. To reject your child is to reject you. If your family loves their racism more than they love you and your future child, then you speak directly to them about their sin. But you don’t give them power to rule over your family, no matter what the cost might be.
Seek the Lord and ask Him if He drawing you to the orphan in this way.
Here is a short film showing the story of us bringing Amos home from Haiti. It’s just a glorious reminder of what God did for me and what it means for me to embrace Amos as a father.
[ENTER FILM LINK HERE]