Adoption; the core of who we are
Without adoption, our Christian story might have been radically different. Christ’s earliest moments teach us to extend family generously, for our salvation as well as others’.
Imagine the outcome had Joseph not claimed Jesus as his first-born? Through adoption, Joseph shielded Mary and her unborn child from exclusion or death: who knows the ramifications for us?
For Jesus, adoption is a literal creation of family. Whilst ministering, Jesus is told that his family are waiting outside. He asks, “who are my brothers and sisters?” They are no longer just Jesus’ “official” family, come to find and reclaim him from strangers. As far as Jesus is concerned, those strangers asking for his love are as much family as those that have known him since infancy.
We see this most clearly on the cross, when he tells his disciple to adopt his mother. When Christ says to the disciple “Behold thy mother!”, he’s not asking him to just look after Mary, but rather to see her afresh, as his own relative. To me, this transformative love is the heart of adoption and the gospel. If Christ’s saving message is of our own adoption by the heavenly Father, let’s remember that his earthly life began and ended with acts of human adoption.
This all begs the question, is adoption a particularly Christian calling? I spoke with four Norfolk families of their own experiences of adoption and fostering, and the ways in which God has called them to re-examine their boundaries of family.
Adoption shaping faith
Of course, sometimes adoption can be as simple as the desire to start our human family. Following fertility issues, Veronica and Simon Wilson adopted their daughter “Miss K” in 2011. Yet rather than their faith shaping their decision, Veronica explains that actually, “it’s the other way around, our adoption story has shaped my faith.” For Veronica, adoption has enabled true understanding of what to means to be a child of God, and what unconditional love looks like.
For Miss K, adoption has nourished a vibrant Christian faith, encouraged both by her parents and their Christian communities, who Veronica cherishes for “welcoming adoptive families like us, embracing the chaos we bring with us, accepting Miss K as she is, and loving her, showing her and us, what God is like.”
In the Wilson family, adoption has brought transformation in which differences and change are celebrated. Miss K was three when she was adopted, and while this has meant hardship from earlier trauma, and the sense that the Wilsons will never be a “normal” family, the conquering of obstacles and championing of one another have brought the family their greatest joys.
Simon explains that, “from meeting her for the first time, being greeted by ‘hello daddy’ changed me. It’s been a two-way process of growth”. Veronica cherishes their process of blending as a family, “of integrating her story with ours”. For Simon, Miss K’s own personality traits have added to his and Veronica’s, bringing “a sense of wholeness” to their family.
Now the Wilson family includes Miss K’s sister, her foster carer, and their families. As Veronica puts it, “there are no genetics needed to be a child of God, and no genetics needed to be our child!”
Fostering as vocation
To Jo and Ian Dyble, such desire to expand families is a very real sign of God’s presence in Christian hearts. Discussing their own often fluctuating and expanding home life, which has included live-in interns, wider family, and family friends, Ian reflects, “it’s God’s heart, God’s adopted us, so it would be strange if we didn’t have that sense within us. We have a call upon us to be adoptive people, to expand the net of our families, to draw others in.” Two years ago, this call led the couple to explore long-term foster care.
Now, they see fostering as a vocation. For Ian this sense of vocation means that fostering, like ministry, doesn’t always have to look perfect or successful: “it can override some low points if you have them, because you know that’s what you’ve been called to do.” Jo explains, “It’s such a strong sense of calling that you know no matter what happens somehow God is involved in this whole process, it just makes a difference to everything.”
Again, one vital gift has been their church community. Whilst evenings out seemed an unlikely luxury, Jo says that St Thomas’ congregants came out in support. The volunteers happily submitted to mandatory DBS checks and interviews to allow the couple some time out. From this closer friendships have developed, and a wider understanding of how God builds family. To Jo, this support shows how Christians who are unable to foster or adopt can play their own part in hospitality, by sustaining those who do. Now both feel that their foster story includes their whole church family.
With help from God and their community, the placement has been a success of perseverance, bringing continued joys. Jo says, “We get these moments so often where something happens, it might be a little breakthrough in a situation or a milestone reached or exceeded, where we just look at each other with that knowing look, thinking, “Yes! This is what we did this for!”
A theology of love and unity
Chris Tomlinson, adoptive father of Aila, aged 13, and Miriam, aged 8, describes adoption as “the most profound theological thing I’ve ever done.” Speaking alongside his daughters and wife Shawn, Chris explains, “adoption teaches God’s heart. He just accepts us for who we are and wants to love us. And we run away from him; we have all this baggage, and he just wants to embrace us.”
For the Tomlinson family this embrace reaches across biological and geographical boundaries. Both girls were born overseas: Aila in China and Miriam in Ethiopia. For the family, the fact that they look different from one another has made their adoption story a public part of their lives. Questions from shop assistants and schoolmates can be hurtful, but Shawn works hard to ensure that the girls feel empowered in these conversations. Evenings once included re-running different question scenarios and figuring out together how to build a natural response.
For Shawn, the issue often boils down to people’s word-choice: “I’d love for people to be aware of words: ‘real’, ‘natural’, ‘your own’ – those are just really thoughtless words. Because what is natural? What is real? What is your own? All of those describe adoption.” For Shawn the message is simple: “Adoption is natural, adoption is real, and our children and us as parents, we belong to each other, we are our own.”
This desire to teach and learn God’s love guides the Tomlinsons’ identity as an adoptive family. Theirs is a growing theology of love and unity in Christian family. Aila sees the Bible as holding “a message of adoption” in all different forms, while for Miriam, Joseph’s teaching Jesus carpentry is significant. As Shawn explains, “for us, one of the biggest things was realising the role Joseph played in bringing up Jesus, that he was fully Jesus’ father, he was active.” For both girls, the Bible shows that adoptive and birth parents hold equal importance, and that as Christians they are not alone as adoptive daughters. Aila says that the Bible shows that “we’re all adopted, not necessarily just some people.” Miriam rejoins, “I want people to know that it doesn’t really matter if you’re adopted or not, because technically we’re all adopted.” Amen to that.
Words are equally important to biological and foster-parents Garry and Penny Goodman. “I would never say ‘children of our own’,”, Garry says, “because this then differentiates between children and family. In our view all children, young or old, good or bad, are God’s jewels; some just don’t let him polish them.”
After 40 years fostering, and over 100 foster children, family get togethers now require a marquee and Christmas shopping needs a week off work. A mobile home was purchased for those that didn’t want to leave home. Though Garry jokes that at some point they’ll have to stop fostering because they can’t afford any more wedding dresses, both see fostering as a joy and privilege, “especially”, Penny says “now that many are grown up with families of their own, and we become Granddad and Grandma to a host of yet more children.” Still, she says, “can you imagine Christmas at our house?”
However, fostering risks pain: as Penny says, “broken children will always be heart-breaking”. Ruined furniture, schooling troubles, and anger are part of the course, and Penny explains, “If you love your house and belongings more than you can love this child, then don’t foster.”
For them though, faith teaches that “no-one is unlovable, that all are loved by our Father, and all are entitled to be a part of a family if they so choose.” The Goodmans now rely on two rules: no drugs are allowed on the property, and no violence. Garry says only one child has ever broken the first rule, though the neighbours have found some funny looking things in the hedge!
Through it all the Goodmans depend on the Holy Spirit to sustain them. Garry explains that though the couple choose to model rather than enforce their faith, God has always been “part of the team”. “We couldn’t have done it without him. When we hugged each other in despair he was there hugging too. In times of joy he celebrates with us.”
Adoption is a force of love which surges through our Bible and our lives as Christians. From our embrace of one another in earthly family, to God’s divine adopting of humanity, adoption is more than a powerful symbol of Christian love, it is the absolute core of who we are.
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