Monday, January 21, 2013

A Look at a Letter

A few days ago I stumbled upon an adoption article that sang so true to me, and shared so much wisdom, that I just had to share it in case others might find something there that resonates as well.  Written by Adam Saenz and shared by the Huffington Post in November 2012, it somehow reaches beyond adoption.  Though not intended to be religious in nature, I found  that in reading  between the lines, it spoke some truths about my faith journey as well.  Let me share the link here:  Adam Saenz: A Letter to My Adopted Daughter

I'd love for you to read it, and post a comment if you see any correlation to your own adoption experience...or life experiences if you have never adopted.

While there was much there in his short essay to work with, there are a couple of nuggets in particular that stayed with me long after I read it.

"The plan was simple. Multiple diagnoses and medications be damned -- we were going to save you, after your two-plus years in state custody, and we were all going to live happily ever after."

Oh my,..."we were going to save you" ...his willingness to openly share their early naivete is something to be applauded.  It is a phrase that makes me cringe when I hear it, and I have heard it often through the years.  While the truth may very well be that a child is saved by being adopted, the salvation oriented perspective is a one dimensional understanding of an incredibly profound journey of the heart that changes and saves all involved.  Adopting from a position high atop a pedestal can also mean a painful crash is felt when the object of your salvation efforts isn't quite as receptive to that image you have bestowed upon yourself, an image that others have often encouraged you to embrace.  When it all gets real, when the cute photo becomes a living, breathing, hurting child standing before you, if your main motivation to adopt was to "save" someone it can be quite difficult to remain committed through all that is to come.  

"When you first arrived, we hid from each other. You pretended that you weren't feeling angry, afraid, guilty, sad, and confused. I pretended that I could parent you from a distance. We looked good to everyone on the outside -- we were pleasant to each other -- but we were superficial and fake. It was a three-month honeymoon of pseudo-family."

If you aren't pretending that you can parent from a distance, you are aching because you are well aware that you can't and you know how damned hard it is going to be to cross the "Bridge of Superficiality" to get to what is real.  It takes months, sometimes years, to make it to the other side, and it is a cautious, tender dance which includes a strong "Fake it till you make it" component.   The only thing missing here is the acknowledgment that the adoptive parents are feeling many of the same emotions as the newly adopted child is.  I can attest to feeling angry at moments, very sad, and terribly confused as I tried to reach backward to offer assistance across the bridge only to have my hand slapped away.  Adoptive parents ache, they cry, they have one of the hardest jobs ever ahead of them.  It is agonizingly difficult to convince a child that it is safe to trust and love, if their precious trust and love was previously rejected.

"As our differences emerged, I responded by trying to control you, trying to fix you and trying to heal you. I wanted to make you normal, which is another way of saying that I wanted to make you like me. "

How I appreciated Mr. Saenz honesty!  Making you "normal" becomes the goal.  We push and  rush through the grief and stages of healing because the sooner you get past it, the sooner everything can transition to our idea of what normal ought to be.  And we do all this without regard to the fact that of one key factor:  There is no such thing as normal, and our adopted children's lives were often so far away from what our idea of "normal" is that we are expecting the impossible.  In our desire to help you, we want to disregard all that made you who you are as you stand before us.  We somehow think that if you become more like us, that is better.  It is not.  Our job is to help you mold your life experiences into something that informs you as you move forward, and to help you feel accepted exactly the way you are...because if we don't do that, the healing will never happen.  It is out of that acceptance that we tell you that who you are and how you are behaving is a very normal response to the life you have experienced thus far.  What we want and need to show you is that there are many different ways to walk through this world, and exploring those ways may help you find something that works better for you so that you can feel whole.  "Whole" does not mean "like me" though.

This was the line that spoke to me the most, for it is not just about adoption, but about how we relate to others in general.  It is about recognizing our own brokenness, and not trying to use others to fix ourselves.

"I must find the humility to empty myself of my agenda: my need to control you, to fix you, to heal you, to make you like me. Our differences have made me face my own brokenness -- my failures, my doubts, my fears and my sins." 

Wow.  Emptying myself of my agenda and facing my own brokenness.  Can you simplify Jesus' message to anything more clear?  Do we really ever effectively change anyone with our own agenda?  Now, there is a fine line here as well, for we as human beings who are hopefully further along in our journey, have an obligation when caring for those we are responsible for.  We must gently point to wisdom, we must try to educate, we must not ignore the damage in the road ahead and we need to warn of it.  However, that has nothing to do with acceptance of our children...or others...just the way they are.  Real change doesn't happen by coercion, it happens when joined and walking together.

Honesty on both sides is the single most important thing, and that means emotional honesty from the parents as well as the kids.  The times when we feel the most vulnerable are usually the times when the greatest healing and growth occurs, for our children need to see us in that broken place.  So do our friends.  Parents of hurting children often assume that their child needs to see how strong they are.  Sure, they need to know you can handle things well, that you are safe and capable.  But they also need to know that you are as broken in your own ways as they feel they are.  If we are too afraid to show that side of ourselves, or if we mistakenly think that it is a sign of weakness, we are missing something more valuable than all the supposed "strength" we can muster.

As a professional writer, Mr. Saenz sums it all up so much better than I ever could when he writes:

"Here are my two cents: Family is where we can be vulnerable and unashamed. In that safety, we have no need for fear or resistance, and we heal and grow spontaneously."

Our hardest job is to model this.  If we can do so successfully, if we can get rid of the notion that "normal" means being just like us, if we can empty ourselves of our agenda, then we will be that family that all hope they can be.  Not "Leave it to Beaver", nor "The Brady Bunch", but a family that lives intentionally, thoughtfully, and respectfully with one another.  Many of us are still working hard to become that, but a willingness to reveal our vulnerability takes a lot of practice...and courage.

This article may have been written specifically about adoption, but if one thinks about the points made, they apply to relationships in general, not just the adoptive parent-adopted child relationship. There is a lot of hard earned wisdom here, and I will be thinking about this and where it applies in other areas of my life for a long time to come.

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