Just think for a moment about the enormous need for mastering the art of forgiving and doing it over and over within the realm of adoption.
For instance, adoptive parents quite often need to make peace with themselves and sometimes with God for damaged or broken reproductive systems that refuse to create life or for life lost through miscarriage or stillbirth.
Sometimes adoptive parents must forgive those who hurt us before our adoptions by judging us for not becoming pregnant or for rubbing their pregnant bellies in front of us while we ache and long for a baby to love.
Adopted children, even at early ages, can begin to hold resentments against the birth parents who gave them up for reasons these children struggle to understand. I realized this when at barely six years old my daughter from China looked down into her cereal bowl and pouted that her birth mother, "didn't even want me," breaking my heart.
Birth parents that we and our children may not ever know or have contact with but probably think of from time to time have to forgive themselves for the choices they've made. And all involved need to forgive a society at large for stereotypes, misconceptions and insensitivity directed at them.
Words can create harm. The Bible says in the Book of Proverbs, 18:21: "The tongue has the power of life and death..."
But forgiveness is the key to freedom, to fully ridding ourselves of another's transgression toward us. In terms of those we care about, forgiveness maintains and builds on relationship with them. It also prepares us and our children for repetitive uncomfortable situations with people who sometimes say those unexpected things everywhere from the grocery store to the family dinner table.
In some cases understanding and compassion may not even be possible to put into motion without the willingness on our parts and asking of God the capacity to genuinely forgive. Forgiveness is also the way to empowering ourselves to develop positive relational skills of interaction with strangers and/or acquaintances.
If you develop a better understanding of the motivations behind this small army surrounding you while at the same time address how they really make you feel, then, with the desire to forgive in your heart you can respond positively, transforming loss into gain. You take back your voice and story. You also develop all important skills for inevitable conflict resolution as you parent your children.
Giving Understanding to Get Understanding
Like most couples with a yearning to become parents, my husband and I hoped for others' sensitivity and understanding as we mapped out a plan to reach our goal. Yet, time and again we found ourselves broadsided by unpleasant surprises while we made our way to international adoption and long after. Whether it was a lack of support with our decision to adopt or insensitive remarks geared toward our son, we felt hurt.
I wanted to understand why for several reasons.
For one thing, I realized that bringing home our baby began a new chapter in our lives but would never erase previous chapters. I did not forget the painful things said regarding my infertility, plans to internationally adopt or to raise a child who would now be a minority among my family, friends and neighbors. I truly desired healing and the ability to forgive for others' past indiscretions in order to be a better mother. I knew that doing so required getting a better handle on understanding others and responding to them in a healthy manner in the future.
Another reason had to do with the perspective I acquired on that of international adoption having gone through the process to bring my infant son home. I gained insight into the incredible need for couples and singles to venture into the unknown and commit to loving and caring for tiny strangers.
A current United Nations estimate on the number of orphans worldwide is 145 milliion. I longed for others to also see the need and be blessed by the experience and privilege of international adoption.
In addition, I wanted a better understanding of why, although one in every six couples experiences infertility, international adoption is that road less traveled. I needed to make sense of just why bearing children far outweighs adoption as the desirable and acceptable standard, even if the infertile couple has to engage in risky and Herculean efforts to produce a biological child. This country spends over two billion dollars annually on reproductive technologies.
Yet another reason was that in a short space of time, I had to figure out what it meant to be in a minority.
Becoming an interracial family presents its own set of complexities. Going into it I thought about how my children might feel being raised by parents of another race as well as the types of cultural immersion they should receive by us. Yet I wasn't prepared for reactions from others with regard to their racial differences. I had to figure out positive ways to respond to others' sometimes insensitive words and behaviors. This was imperative for the sakes of my children who had no control over their abandonment or having been adopted by us.
Finally, I could not silence my heart's cry for myself and my children to be understood. Human beings just have this innate desire for understanding. We want to be around other people who "get us," and accept what they get. We desire for those with whom we share the closest of relationships to identify our real needs. We hope they will put in the effort to appropriately respond to them. It's this basic, human desire that allows us to reach out to others for relationship.
When we have kids we naturally long for their acceptance. This can be particularly true in the case of our internationally adopted children. Abandoned once and having gone without essentials we believe to be within the rights of every child, we desperately hate it when anyone around us rejects them for any reason. As I push forward with protecting my children from racial slurs and inappropriate comments I know that I do. And perhaps because of their rocky starts in life and our incredible desires and perseverance to become parents, offenses committed towards them create greater objection within us and more of the need to forgive.
But I discovered by being their mom that a wonderful by-product of the first-hand experience of others' fallibility can lead to a closer connection to God. I'm not suggesting it isn't a painful process, but one that becomes increasingly rewarding with practice.
God "gets" us all. As the One who created us He already has the answers to our questions before we even think to ask them. Ironically, it's often the things we ask of Him that He will provide to us only after we surrender them.
For instance, the Bible is filled with examples of this "letting go" of what we have in order to get more of it. We increase our provision when we give it away in the form of our tithe. When Hannah, an infertile woman in the Bible cried out to God that if only He would bless her with a child she would "surrender" him by dedicating him to the Lord and have him raised by a rabbi in a temple, she became pregnant.
God showed me that if I wanted understanding for myself and my children as an adoptive parent, I first had to surrender my desire for understanding and be willing to gain it for those I perceived lacked it for us. This is work.
Drumming up both the desire to understand and then the motivation to turn it into action can be extremely difficult. Yet it's such a positive step toward spiritual maturity.
Each time you make true attempts to understand another with genuine forgiveness as your goal, it inevitably leads you to putting into practice an offering of "grace" to them.
The giving of grace is treating them with love even if they have been unloving towards you. Simply put, it's offering them the benefit of the doubt for what they said or meant. It's done by making a conscious choice to not hold something offensive against them in your thoughts or actions.
The enormous payoff is when grace and forgiveness really do affect a positive change in another person and in your relationship with them. A truly breathtaking thing happens when these two are given, received, and result in a softening of hearts that change perception. Your heart sees them through the eyes of a loving God. This breaks down their defenses and helps them to respond positively to your compassion. Both perceptions are changed for the better and truer, resulting in healthier, more humane attitudes and eventual actions.
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