Our spiritual home, or “interior castle,” as Teresa of Avila called it, is the place where healing has its beginning, middle, and end. And in our fallen world, there is much to we all need to be healed from—emotional, physical, and spiritual.
Fourteen years later, I still hear Baby Phoebe’s screams. They were the cries of grief, at being torn from everything she knew: her Appa and Eoma (mommy and daddy), foster siblings, her home, country, culture, and beginnings. Not having any control over what was happening to her, Phoebe was mourning all the strange and frightening things that were happening. Her heart had broken like a bone.
That grief is part of her story, and mine, but only a part. Neither of us, nor any adoptee, is defined by that old wound. People often reject the primal wound theory because they don’t want themselves or their loved ones to be explained or limited by it. But, though the wounds from our pasts are undeniable, the gospel story tells us that wounds can find transformation and healing through the tender molding of the Creator.
Wounds can heal.There are spiritual and emotional resources to draw upon. People are resilient and strong, and with the right support and love can integrate their broken and beautiful beginnings into lives that are rich and filled with joy.
Integrate—meaning fitting in, assimilating, or joining together. Kind of like the process of golden joinery, of the Artisan taking the pieces and creating something new and beautiful with them.
The key is to not skip over the hard parts. Or pretend there are no hard parts, no loss.
If you are on the outside, looking in at an adoptee you love, you might not believe me. “But, Lorilee, seriously now, can you really say that my niece, whose birth parents were drug addicts and whose parental rights were terminated, is not so much better off with her parents and all of us who love her to pieces?”
Yes, of course she is “better off.” I am better off, too, and so is our daughter Phoebe. Both of us would have been raised by single mothers. Living in Korea, my daughter would have been stigmatized for being born out of wedlock. I have even heard that sometimes these single mothers and their children—bereft of societal and family support—end up being trafficked for their bodies. I can hardly bear to think of it.
Are adoptees often better off? Yes. But it’s still sad that our original families could not be what they needed to be for us. It always will be. Adoptees are hardly alone in their original families not being what they need to be for them. Brokenness abounds in all kinds of families. How was your own family lacking in important ways? How did their brokenness create loss for you?
Whatever the source of our wounds, as human beings there is always some old brokenness to reconcile. Adoptees, whether they admit it or not, bear an old break that sometimes will kick up and give us a little trouble. Like my tailbone and pelvis fractures from a car accident in 1997, these cracks will start to hurt when we least expect it.
If I could say one thing to adoptive parents, it would be this:
Acknowledge the crack. Even if your child was adopted out of hopelessness and despair, as many adopted children are, and into your loving, accepting arms, the original crack is there. It just is.
I am 51, and I was loved deeply by my parents. And my husband and I love our girl with a depth and intensity that startles me sometimes.
But the truth is, no human parent can “love away” such a fracture, caused by the confusing loss of one’s original family. This doesn’t mean adoptive children won’t have wonderful lives. I did and do! I’m so grateful my parents adopted me, for the gift of their unconditional love. They are my realest of real parents, not my birth mother and birth father. I could shout from the rooftops how grateful I am to have the family I have, the loving grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins.
But that original loss must be reckoned with, no matter how little of a loss it may seem to be.
Be brave, mom. Have courage, dad. Be willing to answer hard questions and help your child connect those dots. You are the grownup. You are the one they trust to help them navigate the scary waters of life, the confusing feelings. Invest in your child’s heart, entering in the painful places and encouraging understanding, acceptance, and forgiveness. Point your child to the God who mends and makes us strong at the broken places.
Together, lean into the healing God who promises, “For I will restore you to health, and heal your wounds, declares the Lord.” (jeremiah 30:17 esv).
And if someday your child grows up and wants to find out more about their cracked beginnings, to search out a birth mother or father or native country or orphanage, be the first in line to help them do so. (PS: This can be terrifying.)
My parents supported me in my search, and in the end, my love and loyalty for them knew no bounds.
I understood as I never could have otherwise that I was their girl, and nothing could change that.
Ask God for a waterfall of wisdom and mercy. Ask him again, daily, hourly, whenever you think of it. You will need every drop.